Bye-bye, Amazon!

Fig. 3: Chinese? German? Or just simple nonsense?

For a long time I’ve relied on Amazon to find stuff, compare prices, look for bargains, and for a long time they’ve been a reliable source of all things related to travelling. I’ve put together various contraptions to help with photography, I’ve bought boots, raincoats, tents, sleeping mats, inflatable pillows and diverse kit from them. If I didn’t like the stuff, I sent it back for free. They have everything and can deliver free from China. Everything … except common sense and regard for their customers.

In the end three things got me:

  • The absolute trash that is becoming daily fare – not only in terms of trash goods, but also in terms of trash descriptions – I simply will not buy anything that looks like the description came directly out of a machine translating from Chinese and/or German;
  • Writing reviews for Amazon is a pointless task; and
  • Trying to get even a well-intentioned review published once it gets caught in Amazon’s censorship “algorithm” is also pointless.

Let me go into some detail.

Want to buy a tent? By the centimetre perhaps (Fig. 1)? Or a travel pillow by the ounce (Fig. 2)? Well, you’re at the right place with Amazon. Look for a tent in the desired price range and number of inhabitants and you be almost overwhelmed over by choice. Pick one in a nice colour and see what it’s like (Fig. 1). Now all you have to do is work out where to stick the eight “fog pegs” provided. And it was obviously designed for me in mind because “[It is] really fast and easy to set up and make notes” (emphasis added). Not to mention “easy to input/output”. Note that the Grand Canyon Cardova tent suggested on the same page is not a Grand Canyon Cardova at all, but some anonymous piece of junk masquerading under that name. Another tent in the same, erm, category is the “Automatic Hydraulic Waterproof Popup Tent for 3-4 Persons. Build yourself. For camping and outdoor use” (Fig. 3). Who’d’ve thunk – outdoor use? And “56 [56 what?] is large enough for 3 adults can, 4 people holes easily if necessary”. I’ll return to the holes a bit later. I bought one of these tents, just to see what a laugh it was. The mechanism that “allows automatic building up and disassembly the tent so you don’t have the challenging the work of the classic tent structure work with our tent sections, it even a child schnell” was eminently self disassembling, and not the least portable, nor was it hydraulic, or even pneumatic, probably just mechanical. You’d have to be off your rocker to buy (and keep) this. There’s no point in shopping around here, because the junk factor exceeds anything anybody might try to achieve in a lifetime. And, by the way, eBay is not much better here, they had at least one tent whose dimensions were given in tenths of an inch, the weight was in hundredths of a pound (Fig. 4), and even then the conversion between pounds and kilograms was totally random. Perhaps for a Lilliputian circus on their tour of Laputa.

The story with reviews is a sad and sorry tale. About a year ago I bought a “WTK27 (EA3050) Digital Compass with Altimeter” from some French company. Now the customer reviews for this item were full of whingers whingeing about how inaccurate the altimeter was, not realising that all altimeters measuring altitude by air pressure difference will always give false readings, if the underlying air pressure changes. If you start your day with the correct altitude, and the weather remains constant, then the altitude at the end of the day should be accurate. But if a high (or low) moves in in the meantime, then the reading will be correspondingly inaccurate. Now at this point, I hope you have a map and can work out how high you are, because you would be able to do what all meteorologists do, and that is take the current altitude and the measured air pressure and deduce the underlying sea level from those two readings. In this way a modest weather prediction can be made.

Do you think our French engineers designed the product to do this? No, they were obviously trying for a Dunning-Kruger Award, because they designed it exactly arsy-versy: From the measured air pressure and the underlying sea level air pressure, the altitude is calculated. Only problem is how to obtain the sea level air pressure when you’re halfway up a mountain.

Helpful as I sometimes can be I decided to write a review on Amazon to warn others of this design drawback, in the hope that our French friends would recant and redesign their product. Finished the review, sent it off (with “real name” and “verified purchase”) and before I could say anything, let alone, “Jack Flash” back came a rejection at the speed of light. Looked back over the review, made sure I had understood the guidelines and that nothing explicitly forbidden was in there (like links), sent it off again and Whoosh! the rejection was in my inbox almost faster than I could press the enter button to send it off.

I would have liked to have known what was causing these knee-jerk rejections which were obviously being produced faster than any human could read the review. But at times like this it is obvious that no one is at home at Amazon and they do not want to speak with you. Enter Google, and after a couple of minutes of googling I came up with a surprising find, that is, that Amazon rejects reviews out of hand if they contain certain words. Well, OK, I suppose a certain amount of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary might not go down too well, but what did surprise me was that it was the following sentence that was causing the grief:

I don’t have the luxury of digging a hole 61 m into my garden, so I cannot measure the air pressure at sea level directly.

See the problem? No? It was the word hole! FRANKLY AMAZON, ISN’T TIME TO GROW UP AND ACT YOUR F…ING AGE?

I changed the “offending” sentence to this:

I don’t have the luxury of burrowing down 61 m into my garden, so I cannot measure the air pressure at sea level directly.

And, lo and behold, within a few hours the review was online, for all to read. Hasn’t changed the function of the compass/altimeter, though.

The straw that broke this donkey’s back was a review written for one of my books by a “customer”, i.e I had promised someone a copy of the book if they wrote and published a review. There is nothing at all wrong with this sort of commissioned review, but the young lady writing it first tried publishing it via an inactive account (which should only have led to a knee-jerk rejection, and nothing else), and when the rejection arrived, she decided to use her friend’s account to publish it. For what ever reason, this led to Amazon banning the review as spam. Here it is. Decide for yourself:

This book is a great guide if you are planning an adventurous trip on New Zealands North Island. The author tells you all about his trip by kayaks and on foot along the most beautiful tracks of Te Ika-a-Maui.
The first part is about preparing the trip. Here you can find some tips and inspiration for your own preparation. The biggest part is an interesting diary about all the adventures the author had. You will learn a lot about some famous tracks and see beautiful pictures of many places. In the last part you will find some good tips for photographing and making maps.
All in all it’s a different but great guide to New Zealand’s North Island. It will take you on a journey to beautiful places and helps you with your own preparation.

Any attempts afterwards to get this review published ran afoul of one “Waldi Mayer” of Amazon, whose job it is or was to throw up anything irrelevant (data security, review withdrawn by author, etc, etc) at me and then decide that was it. End of the line. Well, Amazon, if your employees don’t have access to common sense, there’s no reason to believe that your computers do.

PS: Amazon have since changed their policy in regard to the word “hole”, as I was able to confirm by writing a review containing the following sentence: “The hole thing is not worth it.” OK, I changed it to “whole” after the review was accepted. (But it does make you think about the spelling skills of those reading the original review, doesn’t it?) They haven’t changed their stance of the review of my book though, so I haven’t bought anything this year from Amazon and will continue not doing so. Good riddance.