We still call it a web log actually

The awkwardness of shouting in stores

Will shopkeepers stop yelling at me when I walk in? As soon as I’ve got through the door, I get a shouted “Hi!” Little is more predictably discomfiting.

You know what I’m talking about: you come in off the street, brush the snow off your jacket, blink under the lights, and immediately you’ve got to identify who is shouting at you and from where. It’s disorienting—like some kind of retail combat exam. I never can tell who’s just shouted at me, because there are a lot of people in this busy room, and I swear they don’t even make eye contact. It’s a mystery game.

Upon receiving the shouted “Welcome!” or “Hi!”, the rules of etiquette of course require a response, which from me is always an embarrassed Er, yes, hello… Usually, this has to be done at some distance, because I’m barely inside. The choices are to ignore the greeting entirely (rude); mutter out a response at normal volume, but potentially not being heard by whichever person has just taken all this trouble to notice and yell at me (also rude); or to indiscriminately shriek out “Hello to you, too!” at everyone in earshot (insane). In fact, what is sold as an act of friendliness is actually hostility: startling the hungry, needy customer with an etiquette dilemma within a second of entry. This isn’t how you put people in a spending mood, and no one who just wants Q-Tips or a burrito should have to face it. Urban life is grim enough.

It’s also transparently fake, saccharine joy. These people aren’t happy to see me, or at least, not that happy. Even if I were inclined to buy their friendliness, my spending any amount of time in the same place quickly reveals my not-uniqueness, as I soon hear the same greeting shouted at customer after customer. How many men did you fake it for before you gave it to me? I never thought I was special; but thank you, now you’ve proved it, every single minute as long as I stay.

Is there another place where shouting at strangers is so predictable and so jarring? Please, everyone stop yelling at me. Let’s save the niceties for if we’re actually being nice.

Uber adds yet another creepy “feature”

My last Uber driver was actually pretty hot.

My last Uber driver was actually pretty hot.

Uber announces plans to use drivers’ GPS and accelerometer data to determine if drivers are speeding. The idea, according to them, is if the trip is too fast or there are sudden braking manuevers, that is something that they should be aware of and take up with drivers. So yet a new way this company is being creepy, evil, and mysterious.

They say this will promote safety. But it’s hypocrisy, because:

  • This is the same Uber that says it doesn’t employ these drivers, they’re just independent contractors. Since they’re independent contractors, why is it Uber’s business how they drive?
  • If you had an accident due to unsafe driving, Uber wouldn’t be there to pay damages. Uber would say, “Hey, sue the 20-year-old kid — we’re just a marketplace.”
  • The post linked above includes vague assurances like “improve safety proactively” and “on the lookout . . . to do better.” But it makes no promises they’ll actually jerk the leash on bad drivers… because if they were to actually promise stuff, then they would become liable.

And do we really need Uber literally tracking our every jerk and twitch? This is the same Uber that invented “God Mode” to track Uber passengers, and whose privacy policy currently says:

If you permit the Uber app to access location services through the permission system used by your mobile operating system (“platform”), [which there is no way not to do, not if you want to be able to get a ride,] we may also collect the precise location of your device when the app is running in the foreground or background.

Yes: Uber sees you when you’re sleeping, and even when you’re not using the Uber app. And you can’t turn it off if you want to use the service. Nothing is to say Uber won’t be following the accelerometer in your phone, too. You can’t trust these people.

The Uber service has changed my world, but the arrogant Silicon Valley technocrats (and their lawyers) are out of control. File this under: dangers of monopoly; the pain of adhesion contracts; the inexorable advance of the security state.

How to get unlimited cell phone data for FREE

I now have a cell phone plan that offers unlimited calling. Amusingly, AT&T sent me a letter about it, printed with ink on pieces of paper.

AT&T then sent me an e-mail telling me that my “unlimited” data plan from a decade ago will be going up $5 a month in price, but it’s the same “unlimited” plan that is subject to harsh throttling when you go over a certain limit. The throttling can be so severe that the data plan is worthless. It’s annoying.

Well, I just realized how I can solve the data problem using the new free calling, and it’s so obvious: bring back modems!

Remember the modem? It was a piece of hardware that connected your computer to your phone line. I actually had a 2400 baud Smartmodem (pictured at right!). And tons of other modems over the years, too. The modem converted digital data into annoying audio sound that could be sent over a phone line.

It seems so obvious. Get a piece of software to run on your cell phone in the background and let it go ahead and tie up the phone line 24 hours a day. (Who cares? You have call waiting anyway if anybody calls, and you could probably configure it to automatically hang up the data line when a call comes in.) Then, send data packets over the telephone line just like in the old days.

It would tear up battery like crazy. And who knows how fast it would be: the old modems went up to 56K but they were using landlines that were decent. Maybe the software modem idea would be better reserved for data that can be batch processed in the background, like app updates, synching the news, and backing up the phone.

Still, every byte that goes out over the modem is a byte that doesn’t come out of your data allocation. And there is just something so sweet about the idea of screwing the man by taking advantage of “unlimited” calling to fix “unlimited” data.

The only problem I haven’t solved is who to call on the other end of the line…

Everything comes out OK

This weekend was somewhat truncated because I had a little delay getting in on Friday and had to leave on Sunday afternoon to get back to work. Pretty much I did some nesting and relaxing, but also found time to work out, pick out some more lighting for the new bathroom, and even go and look at cats to adopt.

This guy is Richmond. The cat people picked him up off the street where he was living with a pack of feral cats. Somehow it seemed like a good idea to get to know him. He was extremely relaxed even around all these strange new people. But he also had a really playful mood too. I could easily see myself finding him lying around when I got home.


2015 grammar update

Officially, on January 1 of every year, I review my grammar and punctuation and other orthographic preferences and decide whether I’m comfortable with the sad choices I’ve made thus far in my life.

As in past years, I made the easy call to stick with “Internet” statt “internet,” and “e-mail” statt “email.” I know this may make me fusty and old fashioned, but that’s OK. I’m in my mid-thirties and I’m entitled.

However, I finally decided to really take a hard look at the number of spaces after a period. This has riven my friends and colleagues in past surveys, but I’ve always stuck with the two spaces. Why? Partly because I truly do think it looks better. And maybe—despite what you’ll read—I still do think that.

Starting in January I began test-marketing the one-space system. It was scary and I felt very uncomfortable. What will others say about me? What does this say about myself? It began in certain letters, then in chats, then e-mails.

Nobody noticed or cared.

Today I announce that the tests were successful and I have fully transitioned to being a one-space person. I know this will provoke anguish in some. I made the decision in part based on the sort of people who actually will be anguished. I now part company with a couple of attorneys whose writing styles I find stuffy and old-fashioned. If I set myself against them, I probably am doing something right. And I join a vast (tragically probably Apple-centric) set of modern designers and writers who just use the one space.

I am sure there will be backsliding. I will probably get drunk and start typing two just for old times’ sake. I think I’ll make it through, though. Your support and encouragement are critical.

Next year, we will review explicitly specifying nautical miles vs. statute miles in all distance calculations. I bet you don’t know which one is the one you typically use (e.g., in mph?). In 2016, you’ll find out.

Bad design is everywhere

I just got a hand-me-down Apple keyboard. It’s wireless. It has a power button which can be momentarily depressed. When you push it, a tiny little light shows up to let you know that the keyboard is on. Apparently, it shuts itself off automatically, or the manual alleges it can be turned off using the button. Pushing the button never does anything other than cause a tiny little light to show up letting you know the keyboard has been turned on again. How do you turn it off? The manual doesn’t say, but it does say that it should be turned off to save battery life. It’s maddening. (The answer I found on a bunch of web pages from 2007.ÂYou have to hold the button in until the tiny little light turns on, then off.)

I have an alarm clock which automatically sets itself to atomic time. This is great, I thought. Now I’ll never have to set the clock manually by hand. Unfortunately, this feature worked once and then has slowly started drifting since then. My atomic clock is now off by four or five minutes from real time. There is no way at all to correct the time — the hour and minute buttons don’t work at all. I unplugged it for a month and took the batteries out. Nothing worked. When it starts getting to be ten minutes off, I’ll have to throw it away. Also, it’s so damn dim, you can’t even read it except in the dark anyway.

And don’t get me started on the new Snapchat.

Mom orders a drink

Last night I went out to dinner with my mom, who was supposed to meet me for dinner at Continental. But she showed up at Phillips Seafood. These restaurants are right next to each other and they don’t have walls (they’re inside Caesar’s Atlantic City).

She had just ordered a margarita at Phillips. So she smuggled it out wrapped up in a copy of Bartlett v. Mutual Pharm. Co., Inc. (1st Cir. May 2, 2012). When we walked over to Continental, they caught her. But she decided to just set the drink on the floor. Periodically she would lean down and drink out of this glass on the floor. Eventually it was gone so they took it away.

Nobody has a crazy, wonderful, nuts mom like I do. I’m lucky.

One more thing lost

I’m watching The Pelican Brief (and I’m only 20 minutes in).  Two things stand out.  First of all, Cynthia Nixon played one of Julia Roberts’ law student friends, which is kind of hot.  I guess she got her Sex and The City J.D. by having a part in this film.

Second, I loved — as I always do — the library scene where Julia Roberts rifles through countless dusty old law books, trying to figure out who might have killed the Supreme Court justices.  You can feel the drama.  Then I thought about it: in the digital age, there is no dramatic dusty old book scene.  There’s just Julia Roberts, staring slackjawed at shitty old Westlaw.  Hollywood is never going to put together any frantic iPad research sequence.  (“Turn it to portrait orientation!  Hurry!”)  I hate the iPad and all it is doing to the death of print.

Chinese news

I’ve been really sick the last four days, and probably spending more time on the Internet than usual.  Nothing is more discouraging than a few minutes at the China Daily website, the English-language “news” site which has become increasingly more professional over the years, and thusly, more dangerous.

The lead story on the BBC News webpage is about severe protests and demonstrations against Chinese rule in Tibet.  There, you can read that activists have released graphic photos of dead bodies showing bullet wounds, and that the police have finally admitted to firing shots at some protesters.  You’ll also read that riot police raided a monastery, causing 300 monks to run for their lives as police committed acts of “gratuitous violence” and kicked monks in the stomach while they lay on the ground.  The phone service had mysteriously been cut.  And the BBC’s own reporters noted that there had been severe limitations on their travel and ability to report.

Cruise over to China Daily.  The lead story is on the Olympic flame.  Click on “China” to get national news stories.  The lead story there is “China’s new cabinet maps out working rules.”  You have to dig for a story about the crisis, and I found one.  105 Lhasa rioters surrender to police.  There, you’ll read that “rioters” killed innocent civilians.  There’s no mention of China’s military actions.  But, there is a link to a story couple of days old titled, We fired no gunshots — Tibetan government chairman.  I wasn’t able to find any article admitting that the government in fact had shot anyone.  Rather, I found a humorous and pathetic grab-all story recounting that local religious authorities were decrying the Dalai Lama (who’s won the Nobel Peace Prize), that Tibet’s 1957 military invasion was “peaceful,” and for good measure, that “mobs” stoned a Han Chinese girl’s head without provocation.  (The Han are eastern China’s ethnic majority.)

Although China Daily never likes airing China’s own dirty laundry, it always enjoys having a good laugh at the United States — a country where protests against the government usually do not result in death.  Some people actually take pride in the fact that this is a country where protesting is legal: a point that seems lost on the site’s editors.  Thus, photos of Iraq war protesters are often prominently displayed on the front page, including today.  This is pretty typical for the website, but what I found truly bizarre is that the CD has created a special slideshow about Eliot Spitzer.  For fans of the absurd, this is not to be missed.  What sounds like plaintive Chinese pop music starts up soon into the slides.  As the captions peter out, it appears that the editors are simply running out the clock so that they can finish the song.  I have asked for a translation.

Also good for a laugh is the commentary, Property boom is here to stay.  After the ritualistic paean to Beijing’s “beaming vitality” and the amusingly gushing reference to “millions of skyscrapers being erected” (do the math — even in China, it can’t be millions), the author gets down to business.  “Are these sprouting buildings constructed on speculated ground, as property prices have been surging at a pace faster than the average growth in incomes?”  The answer is, of course not.  Do I even need to spell out the irony here?  And tragically, the author has failed to learn his microecon 101, confusingly calling the government to impose “price controls to make housing affordable for everyone” (but China must not “resort to administrative means to rein in housing prices”) while at the same time “subsidizing buyers with cash reimbursement” and cutting deals with developers to cap initial sale prices.  Huh?  Even Paul Krugman could not get behind this weird a plan, but “the authorities seem to have acknowledged this approach.”  And despite the opening reference to China’s glittering array of wealth, the column contains the rare admission that it is “a society where the majority of people cannot afford housing.”

As the Olympics near, we are going to hear more and more about how China is doing for itself.  The record continues to be one of shame.  And I remind people that it was just 2001 that China’s military captured and interrogated several U.S. airmen after one of their inept pilots caused a mid-air collision.  They are not our friends.  In the 1980’s, America was obsessed with the prospect of having to surrender our economy to the Japanese, and that was a country we actually got along with.  It is a long road from the China of 2008 to the Japan of 1980.

Aviation security

I rarely do this, but I’m simply going to link to a New York Times weblog posting from a commercial pilot.  While he doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of positive suggestions for security, he does kick the legs out from under several of the ridiculous security measures currently in place in the US.  I was surprised to learn that while pilots and flight attendants must go through the metal detectors, ramp workers and others who have direct access to the planes undergo only sporadic security checks.  It’s long, but it’s a good screed and a good read.

Britain crumbles

I ran across a very surprising article from the Daily Telegraph that the Labour Government in the UK has decided to allow rising ocean levels to consume British villages and farmland in several vulnerable areas.  Under a points-based formula, only certain regions will be “defended” against incursions by the sea.  The article leaks some of the details from the official analysis.

Not surprisingly, some people are very cross about this, and some Conservative members accuse the government of sacrificing Conservative districts (literally) while shoring up marginal Labour constituencies that were affected by this year’s massive river floods.  Whatever; I can’t pass judgment on that.

It is interesting, though, that Britain has the stomach (or lack of backbone, depending on how you feel) to decide what to save and what to let go.  In America, we haven’t made many honest decisions about this, except for a few million-dollar cliffs in Massachusetts.  We certainly haven’t faced up to certain geological and physical realities in many places where a decision will be inevitable.  I’m thinking of New Orleans, of course, but also North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the Florida Keys, and a scattering of Appalachian hollows and river towns.  Our course is always to shore up and rebuild on shaky ground, burying our heads in the sand as it washes away around us.

Cityboy goes green

Lately I’ve found the time to read a ton of books in the sort of earthy/environmental vein.  That and the impending Florida move have made me just feel a lot “greener.”  Let me explain.

When I was growing up, we had all kinds of things in the backyard: apple trees, a cherry tree, a peach tree, grapevines, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries (disgusting), asparagus, tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, carrots, beans, sunflowers, corn, and God knows what else.  We had a shed, which my dad built from the ground up to hold all the tools, and a compost pile (a mysterious shaggy creature).  We also had some kind of mini-greenhouse on legs, which I think was used to grow herbs.  In the front yard we had a huge lilac bush and a ton of flowers.

It’s kind like I’m going through repressed memory therapy here, but I’m just realizing that damn, I grew up with a ton of gardening going on. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.  I’m sure I assumed everybody kept a grape arbor in the backyard, if I had even decided to think about it, which I’m sure I hadn’t.

Now I’m thinking that reviving this life would be a great thing to do on my own, but living downtown in a condo isn’t exactly conducive to having a garden and a compost pile.  The next best thing is to read about it, so I did.

I went down to the library and picked up Compost, a deceptively small book about composting.  The British author says you should actually compost food waste and paper waste in equal quantities — great, because I generate huge amounts of paper waste.  I also read The Square-Foot Garden, a classic that eschews the traditional row method of planting in favor of little squares that you never walk on, so as not to compact the soil.  (I now am realizing our garden looked like that — another thing I just assumed everybody else did.)  For a human perspective, I tried to sift through The 3,000 Mile Garden, a book of sort of gardeny love letters between an Englishman and a Maine cat lady, but it got too creepy.  (I tried!)  Because it was there (in the gardening section! what a scam the Dewey decimal system was!), I also picked up and devoured Silent Spring, the 1962 classic that helped launch the environmental revolution and crusaded against broad-spectrum synthetic pesticides like heptachlor, dieldrin, and DDT, all of which are now off the market.  I read all this stuff in the span of about three days last week, when I should have been studying, then I slept on it.  I heartily recommend all these books except the one.

After all this ecological ferment, I’ve decided: I can’t wait to move to Florida so I can grow a garden.  Apparently the soil is crummy (either sandy or clayey, and full of nematodes), but you can fix that, and you can grow up to five crops a year because of the wonderful sun, temperatures, and humidity.  I also decided I would like to try to never throw anything away, again, ever.  According to Compost, you can even compost things like old clothes (they’re cotton, a natural fiber) and cardboard.  I already recycle all kinds of stuff, including my cans, paper, electronics, and so on.  The only things you really can’t recycle are certain plastics — what else is there to throw out?  So, once the move comes, everything’s going on the compost pile or in the recycling.  I even researched how to compost meat, which everybody says is a bad idea (rats and flies), and I came across “bokashi,” a Japanese invention involving a sealed bucket, wheat bran, and bacteria, which is a process that anaerobically “pickles” your meat, permitting it to then be composted.  Sounds gross, though, to leave a bucket of rotting meat outside, but if it works, why not.

Amusingly, these decisions have led me to realize I’m going to have to live on a lot with some sun and some amount of land, i.e., I might actually have to move to the suburbs or the country (!).  Cityboy might go on hiatus for a while.  But I think it will be enjoyable to come home, change from the suit into the play clothes, go muck about in the garden for an hour or so, then get a shower and have a refreshing drink while admiring the garden, and have a dinner including vegetables I grew myself.  That kind of life should give plenty of time for contemplation.  Shouldn’t life be relaxing and innately rewarding?

Not thirty yet

So I’m sitting at the Caribou Coffee, here to do some writing and thinking. There’s an incredibly bad guitar singer here with an amp — which never happens. I’m trying to work, but the old man is cranking out bad renditions of the Beatles and the Monkees. (Come on man, pick one and get good at it!)

I am grateful, then, that I at least have my laptop with me so I can listen to my own music. But there’s some terrible problem, and I can’t get the music working! Windows Media Player says it can’t access all of my files, which is bizarre. So I download WinAmp, copy the music to other locations, try Yahoo Radio, reboot multiple times — anything to drown this guy out, but nothing works. It’s a travesty and I can’t think!

Finally, after half an hour of screwing around and NOT writing, I figure out the driver problem, and I crank up the first song that plays: Sedated, by the Ramones. Ahh, sweet blessed peace. I start jamming along, banging my head and really being happy.

And that’s when I notice them. A group of four ‘tweenies, sitting in front of me, giggling. And one of them has a camera phone and is trying to casually hold it over the shoulder so he can video my inspired Ramones performance. The others are dying laughing and trying to discreetly help him point it the right way.

Not wanting to wind up on YouTube, I stop chair-dancing and just stare at the phone intensely. They quit taping me and act like it never happened.

That’s when I turn on the flashlight on my phone, lean over, and take this picture of the little bastards:

Four punks at Caribou

(Perpetrator in blue hoodie.) They immediately melt in mortified embarrassment. Giggling stops, whispering starts. Nobody can stand to look at me after that.

Suck on it, punks. I’m not thirty yet.

The embarrassment of state-run gambling

It’s not often that I get to say this, but I was right and I have proof.

If you have been reading my site forever, you’ll remember that I wrote about Jack Whittaker, the man who won a $314.9 million Christmas Powerball jackpot, back on December 29, 2002.  In that posting, I argued that the lottery was bad for the people of West Virginia, who are among the poorest in the nation, because it lures them into wasting money on a prize they have no realistic hope of winning.  I still believe that huge jackpots like Whittaker’s are dangerous, because they give hope to those susceptible to playing the lottery, and the lottery almost never pays off.

Unfortunately, what happened to Whittaker shows that the payoff isn’t always something you’d want.  Whittaker himself has suffered greatly from the burden of winning all that money, according to a recent AP news story and other reports.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, July 27, 2007, “his granddaughter died of a drug overdose; he was sued for bouncing checks at Atlantic City, N.J., casinos; he was ordered to undergo rehab after being arrested on drunken driving charges; … and he settled a lawsuit filed by the father of an 18-year-old boy, a friend of his granddaughter’s, who was found dead of an overdose in Whittaker’s house.”  The New York Times reported in 2003 that “[m]ore than $500,000 was stolen from a sport utility vehicle that [Whittaker] parked at a strip club,” although the money was recovered.  But Whittaker didn’t learn his lesson, according to another Times report in 2004, because his truck was robbed again of $100,000.

A lengthy September 2007 AP story, part of which appeared in the Columbus Dispatch, tells the most human part of the tragedy.  “His wife left him and his drug-addicted granddaughter — his protege and heir — died.  He endured constant requests for money.  Almost five years later, Whittaker is left with things money can’t cure: His daughter’s cancer, a long list of indiscretions documented in newspapers and court records, and an inability to trust others.”  He still works, starting the day at 5am, but the story reports on Whittaker’s struggles with “drinking, gambling and philandering,” and by his own account, he has been “involved in 460 legal actions since winning” (some baseless, brought by people who figured he could afford to pay out).  The saddest part has to be that he had hoped his granddaughter would inherit his businesses and fortune, and had structured everything to go to her when she turned 21.  But a year after Whittaker won the lottery, the 15-year-old granddaughter was in Oxycontin rehab, and she died just 17 years old with cocaine and methadone in her system and a syringe and pills in her bra.  According to the article, “Her body was found two weeks later wrapped in a sheet and plastic tarp, hidden in a yard by a boyfriend who panicked when he found her dead.”

Come on, people. Lotteries are bad news.  They hurt those who can afford to waste money the least.  (Interestingly, by all accounts Whittaker was a millionare when he won, owning his own pipeline construction company, so he should have been better suited than most to handle the sudden wealth.)  Most people lose every dollar they bet, or win only token amounts.  No one should play lotteries, and no democratic state should be in the business of profiting off these gambling rackets.  Whittaker’s sad story is just one example why.

Count the rings

Citibank loves to send junk e-mails.  Today I got one telling me, “There’s a safer way to handle your account,” and it included the picture below.  Nothing else referred to safety or information security, so I assume the “safe handling” is some kind of cute joke.

Tree dying in hand

Citibank says this “tree,” which almost certainly is now dead, will do wondrous things for all of us.  If only I agree to switch to paperless statements, Citibank will go right ahead and plant a “tree” like the one in this person’s hand.

Well, that’s not so novel, I thought, but look what the tree does.  “To put things in perspective, over a 50-year lifetime, one tree will generate $31,250 worth of oxygen, recycle $37,500 worth of water, and control $31,250 worth of soil erosion.”  It adds up to exactly $100,000.

Are they serious???  First of all, if they are, I would be getting out of the banking business and right into the tree-owning business.  Also, how much does oxygen cost these days?  I should call down to the local Praxair, I bet you can get a whole ton of it for thirty-one thousand.  Maybe they don’t know about this tree-sprig racket yet.  Should I be trusting this bank with my credit rating?

P.S. Nobody told me how much CO2 Citibank’s paperless data centers put out.