Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Traditions

Once again, Christmas is at our throats.  And with it comes the usual barrage of spam from E-tailers, wanting us to know about all their latest specials.  Apple, for example, seems to think everything they do is pretty special, so they continually send me enticing emails inviting me to take advantage of ... THEIR REGULAR PRICES!

Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, is offering me 40% off on whatever I want, so long as what I want is the complete Elf on the Shelf collection, including a book, a doll and, as if that weren't enough, a box!  Elf on the Shelf bills itself as a Christmas tradition ... a tradition dating way back to 2005 or so.  As near as I can determine EotS is more than a book.  It's an industry.  There are, of course, books, dolls, videos, etc. all based on the incredible literary breakthrough of rhyming "elf" with "shelf."

The gist of this industry, apparently, is that you're supposed to delude your kids with the idea that an elf is hiding in your house, reporting their good and bad deeds to Santa.  You're then supposed to hide the doll in various places around the house during the month of December, thus simultaneously fostering their acquisitiveness and their paranoia.  A splendid time is had by all.

Of course, in this day and age, and especially in light of the recent WikiLeaks disclosures, Santa is far more likely to do his information gathering via the Internet.  Perhaps I should publish A Gnome on the Home Page, or A Ghost on the Web Host.

In our house, we prefer our own revered tradition (ca. 2010) of singing Broadway show lyrics to the tunes of various John Williams movie music.  Fiddler on the Roof meets Harry Potter.  Try it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be Demanding

I started getting daily emails from eBay.  eBay Daily Deals they called it.  Why on earth I would want this is beyond me.  I go to eBay when I'm looking for something in particular, or when I want to sell something.  I have no interest in simply browsing eBay to see what I can pick up.  (But Martha, we really needed this combination apple corer and Blu-ray player.)

Anyway, I decided to make the supreme sacrifice of unsubscribing from eBay Daily Deals.  So I clicked the requisite link.  Yes, I really want to unsubscribe.  I was informed that the change might take up to 10 days to take effect.

10 days?  TEN DAYS?!?!?  A lifetime!

I pictured some underpaid clerk, with garters on his shirtsleeves and a sweat-stained green visor, sitting at a tall oak desk with a stack of unsubscription requests to plow though.  I'm sure eBay has a special building just for these clerks ... one with gas lamps and a coal stove.

Hmmm.  I'm having trouble making the segue I want, so let me just jump the rails for a minute.  If things suck, it's because we tolerate it.  We tolerate paying ATM fees so the bank can employ fewer tellers.  We put up with being groped at airports because we're already used to being handled like baggage.  We wait hours for a 10 minute doctor's appointment ... longer if the medical center charges for parking.  We eagerly buy software that destroys our data, and we immunize the makers by agreeing to incredibly lopsided end-user license agreement.  And, of course, we keep all the makers of junk food and soda and cigarettes alive by buying their toxic wares.

Somebody once said "You get the society you deserve," or something like that.  (I don't know.  It's not on the first page of Google.)  In any case, it's profoundly true.  After 15,000 years or so of civilization, we can pretty much conclude that people can be exploitative in the extreme, and corporations are even worse.

So, what does eBay's spam have to do with the rest of this misanthropic rant?  Nothing.  I'm just gearing up for the holidays.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Merger Mania

I must have too much free time.  I just keep thinking of names of companies resulting from the merger of two or more current companies.  Of course, you have to come up with a business model too.  Here are some of mine:

Microbe - Publishing software that infects your computer.
Goohoo - Search engine that's also ... well, a search engine.
IBsoft - Hardware and software.  (Should have happened decades ago.)
Applebook - School supplies.
Amazonic - Maker of the 50-inch plasma Kindle reader.

Got any?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Human Factors

How's THAT for user friendly?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't mess with my email!

So Facebook is going to revolutionize electronic communication? Again? The New York Times quotes Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as saying that, in The Times's words, e-mail was too formal, too slow and too cumbersome, especially for young people who had grown up communicating using online chat and text messaging systems.

Too formal?  Have you seen some of the email that ends up on various lists?  Even such staid groups as children's writers, cross-stitchers and cat lovers have email lists liberally peppered with obscenity, vitriol,  innuendo and just plain bad writing. The philosophical conundrum of the age is whether the anonymity of email causes all the mild-mannered Doctors Jekyll on the internet to post like Mr. Hyde.  Formality is not one's first impression.

Perhaps Mr. Zuckerberg is referring to the fact that e-mail encourages you to use actual words and sentences.  Granted this degree of formality seems excessive, but certainly not all e-mailers feel bound by these shackles. I personally receive many e-mails written in reckless disregard for convention or grammar (though admittedly a large percentage of these are proposing sexual hook-ups or various aids for same.)

Too cumbersome, especially for young people?  Evidently, Mr. Zuckerberg does not have parents, and has never seen any.  Young people do not find email cumbersome at all.  They can do it in their sleep.  It's the parents (and grandparents) who barely manage to muddle through.

There may be a case for "too slow" though.  Certainly the anxiety of waiting 30 or even 45 seconds for an e-mail message to cross 11 timezones is too onerous for anyone, let alone an impatient youth.  Surely instant messaging is a necessity in today's world.  Unfortunately, Facebook's track record does not suggest that whatever Mr. Zuckerberg has in mind will be anywhere near instant.

If you ask actual people what's wrong with email, they don't cite speed and convenience as problems.  Rather, the usual complaints are about privacy, security and spam prevention.  Not exactly Facebook's strengths.  Can you imagine sending a private message to your BFF, and having your boss comment and your mother "like" it?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Inevitable Fall

Shakespeare wrote: "That time of year thou mayst in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, / Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."  Or, for you text messagers, "ateotd i m ateotd."

But I'm not talking about my age.  I'm talking about autumn in general, and Shakespeare's disparagement of this fine season.  This poem, Sonnet 73, goes on and on about what an old, decrepit wreck the speaker is, and how the listener must really be in love, to love someone so close to death.  Geez, what a drama queen!
I was out biking today where yellow leaves, or none, or few were still hanging on the boughs.  It was freakin' beautiful.  I love autumn.  Days can be cool and clear.  Nights are downright cold, which is great for piling on the blankets.

Now granted, I don't know what autumn is like in Stratford, or what it was like in Shakespeare's day, before climate change made everything go haywire.  But I can't believe autumn in Old England was any worse than winter in New England, and even that doesn't fill me with the moroseness and self-pity that seems to have inspired the Bard.  The man was positively gloomy about autumn.

Oh, wait.  They didn't have football.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Keeping Up

I knew I should have waited for the 3G model.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Electile Dysfunction

It's been a week since the latest U.S. election.  Once again, voters sent a clear mixed message to government.  That message is: "Shape up or ship out.  Unless you're from California.  Or Massachusetts."  Seriously, voters were hot to jettison incumbents out of sheer boredom.  Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and the Tea Party candidates were so much more entertaining than a bunch of boring old incumbents who just pass laws and institute reforms and generally go around incumbing things.

The U.S. House of Representatives switched from a Democratic majority to a Republican one like a warning shot across the bow.  "Come on, Obama.  You've had two years.  Why haven't you fixed everything?"  Of course, voters did not give Republicans enough control to actually institute the changes they want to make.  Hey, they're not that crazy!

Obama clearly got the message, calling the election results a "shellacking" and planning a sequel to his earlier book, The Mendacity of Hype.  Now he's gone to India to try to outsource his job.  Pretty soon, the hotline (Do they still have that?  Who's at the other end?) will answer "Your call is important to us.  Please hold for the next available ..."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Telecommuting Priorities

If you've been working in an office, becoming a telecommuter requires certain adjustments.  You need to accept Casual Friday on Tuesday (and every other day).  You need to find a way to be excited about every bird or squirrel your cats see.  That's the office gossip.

But mainly, you need to find a caffeine delivery system.  I don't mean "delivery" as in some person who brings coffee to your house (though that would be great!)  I mean a system for producing ingestible caffeine, usually in liquid form, and enabling the consumption of that caffeine.

You may have gotten spoiled in the office by having coffee always ready, or even having one of those cup-at-a-time brewing systems that make fresh coffee and landfill at about the same rate.  You may be used to running to your nearest Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts for a dose, but that requires pants, a frivolous luxury for the home worker.

So now you're reduced to having to eke out caffeine from raw materials found in the home.  It's like being on Survivor.  Luckily, The Tech Curmudgeon is here to help.

Let's start by introducing the basic concepts and we can get into the details at a later date.  Most often, caffeine is purchased in a form called coffee.  This is usually either dark, crunchy beans that taste like high priced dirt, or a powder whose very aroma could revive the dead.  There are devices, called grinders, to convert the beans into the powder, usually at the decibel level of a Boeing 777.

Once the powder form has been obtained, the trick is to put it into very close proximity to hot water for some period of time.  Experts differ on how hot the water should be, how long the powder and water should be together, and how to separate the powder from the water so you can drink (the water) without that grit-in-the-teeth sensation of a surfer face-planting on the beach.  We at The Tech Curmudgeon are vigorously researching these questions, and will issue a full report once we have sufficient data.

Meanwhile, we feel it's appropriate to have a special toast for those about to drink coffee, similar to the toasts for alcoholic drinks.  Here's our proposal ...


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Trash Day

Monday, November 1, 2010


In the confusion that followed the 2000 U.S. presidential election, President Clinton said "Never again will Americans be able to say 'My vote doesn't count.'" (Or something like that.  I can't be bothered looking it up.)  Anyway, the real message of that election was just the opposite.  Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision  (Bush v. Gore, 2000), ALL American's can say "My vote doesn't count."  Or more precisely, my vote won't be counted.

But the real bottom line here is that close elections suck.  For one thing, much as we'd like to think elections are a reasonably fair process, all the evidence of 2000 and later elections say it just ain't so.  Registration can be questionable.   Ballots are subject to overvotes and undervotes.  Voting machines and counting machines can have serious defects.  And that's not even considering the human aspects of the process.

There's a huge possibility of an election swinging one way or another based on chance.  Bad weather affects elderly voters more than others.  Exit polling and predictions have an effect on outcomes in later timezones.  And jackbooted thugs kicking down doors of minority homes tends to limit voter turnout among those groups.  In a close election, seemingly minor factors can have a huge effect.

So get your ass out there and vote tomorrow.

Unless you're a Republican.