Missing the mark…

Online marketing has a long and impressive history of trying to sell people things they don’t really need. With their add on items and overwhelming presence on social media, the “things” are hard to miss most of the time. Some people find targeted advertising intrusive, personally I’m a bit more ambivalent about it. That ambivalence comes largely because of how often Amazon and the other online retailers shoot their shot and get it laughingly wrong.

My all time favorite is still the real estate company in New York City that somehow ended up with me in their target demographic for “people who want to live in New York and have $2.5 million to spend on an apartment.” There’s literally no part of that estimation that they got right, though in their defense I’m sure the apartments they were hawking were very nice.

The add that’s giving me the most current belly laughs is brought to you by Amazon, who seems determined to sell me a “Ember Temperature Control Ceramic Mug, Black.” I like tech as much and in some cases more than the next guy, but I have never sat down with a steam cup of coffee and thought, “You know what I need? I need a battery powered, rechargeable ceramic mug that I can control from my phone.” The idea of needing such a thing has simply never occurred to me. I mean I can melt my face off well enough after an hour or two with coffee traveling in one of my $12 Yeti knock off mugs.

I’m all for the forward march of technology, but paying an extra $67.99 for the added “benefit” of the mug having a battery with a one hour run time feels, well, just a little bit like someone’s trying to solve a problem that no one really has.

Faith in the cloud…

Storing data “in the cloud” is not exactly new. It’s the modern version of mainframes with dumb terminals repackaged to sound somehow more futuristic. For data intensive activities – lets say storing a master backup of my hard drive – having it reside in the cloud (i.e. renting space in someone else’s server farm) works well enough for most purposes.  It just hums along in the background making a faithful copy of everything I have stored on my home computer. The chances of that service and my computer both crapping out at the exact same time are remote enough to not cause a moment’s active worry.

With something like a password manager, though, you end up with a bit of a different story. For five hours today Lastpass, one of a handful of large and popular password managers, was offline. It’s probably not a crisis if you use relatively simple passwords, like 1-2-3-4-A-B-C-D. If you use this kind of service to manage a hundred or more passwords and each of those passwords is a unique 16+ character string, however, life is going to get inconvenient in a hurry if there happen to be sites you actively need to log in to on a daily basis. 

For five hours today Lastpass failed me and I was effectively locked out of sites I use regularly, but that require a daily log in. Some passwords I had to reset manually (while taking note of the new password to sync later with the application that’s nominally in charge of managing my passwords). Others I was locked out of completely while waiting for the systems people to bring their website back online.

No online service will ever have a 100% availability. That goes with the territory. As a paying customer, though, I do expect some basic communication from the company about what’s happening and what is being done to restore services, and more specifically an ETA on when we can expect the repair to be completed. Today, unless you went digging on Twitter, it was a resounding silence from Lastpass. Not an impressive bit of performance… and something that’s got me reevaluating the balance between the security of a paid professional management site versus just keeping everything on a damned spreadsheet so I can use it when I need it. 

All things in Xs…

I’ve been uncharacteristically patient in waiting until reaching (just) my one year anniversary with the iPhone X. The phone is a workhorse that in truth is far more pocket computer/communications device than any average user could ever need. Workhorse though it is, my trusty X is no longer the flagship of Apple’s iPhone fleet.

With my eligibility for an upgrade confirmed, I’ll be off tomorrow to slip by my very favorite retailer and hand off my trusty phone for its slightly newer, sexier younger sibling. Apple was kind enough to email me a confirmation of the order which means it should be a fairly painless visit – well under 10 minutes awash in the great American retail habitat.

I’ll give the marketing and sales department great credit. The know their target audience and continue too come up with new and interesting ways to help us feed the madness. I mean if you can convince me that going to a mall on Saturday is worth doing you should consider a career selling ice in the arctic.

There are some things for which I am willing to gladly suffer the indignity of being inevitably surrounded by people. The Xs just happens to be one of those things. I’ll be very happy to bring her home tomorrow.

On a future without the car…

I read an article today that prognosticated the death of personally owned vehicles and the internal combustion engine within the next 20 years. It made many fine points projecting how much safer, more convenient, less expensive, and environmentally conscience eliminating the traditional family car would be. We could all hail them like an Uber, let them drive us to our destination while sleeping or fidgeting with our spinner, and paying a “nominal tax” for the maintenance and upkeep of this new and exciting public service.

It’s an interesting concept, to be sure. Then, of course I look at how well we’ve managed to maintain the current generation of public infrastructure and wonder what madman would willingly give up his clean and well maintained personal vehicle in perpetuity for the joys of the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation in automobile-sized formats? I’m thinking of the guys I’ve seen taking a leak on the DC Metro and the noxious mix of whatever it is that makes taxi floors so disgustingly odoriferous. Add in the part that one of these marvelous transportation pods might not be available when and where you need one, and it sounds like a real winner of a plan to me.

Look, maybe it’s the kind of thing that would make some flavor sense for someone living in a dense urban environment or those consciously deciding to forgo privately owning a vehicle – a group that already seems largely served by things like trains, buses, taxis, and ride sharing schemes. For those of us who made the conscious decision to live in a rural part of the country, I have no idea how something like this makes sense. The density of pods needed just to get people in my rural county to and from work would seem to be prohibitive at first blush. Then add in the times you need to have something like a pickup truck to haul trash, or furniture, or firewood, or just to make a trip to the garden center and the plan frays even further around the edges. Are there going to be special freight pods that come with even less unit density than the normal passenger pods and how much inconvenience are people as a group going to tolerate to make this concept work?

It’s an interesting notion, but for the foreseeable future is going to be a hard no from me. I like knowing I have a machine only a few feet away that I can climb into and, with a reasonable amount of maintenance and upkeep, transport myself anywhere on the continent at the time and route of my own choosing. I have no intention of giving that up that level of freedom and convenience to feed someone’s nightmare hellscape dream of a “future without cars.”

The point of the exercise…

After scrolling through my twitter feed and Facebook timeline this afternoon at lunch, I’ve come to the not-particularly-surprising conclusion that social media isn’t fun any more. Maybe it never really was fun, but it was once new and interesting and held loads of promise of being the for people to communicate in the new century. Now it’s become something more like a never ending grudge match of who can shout loudest, post up the most toxic memes, and get the most reverb from their echo chamber of choice.

Although I have occasionally learned new things thanks to a random post on social media, I can’t think of a single time that Facebook or Twitter have gotten me all turned around on an issue. The way in which we discuss our politics or other issues of the day on these platforms leaves me wondering if anyone has every actually changed their mind based on what they hear and see. It feels more like the perfect tool for those with their minds largely made up to entrench and find others who agree with them.

Look, I know I’m as, if not more mouthy and opinionated than the next guy… so if I’m managing to glam on to the idea that beaming these electrons back and forth at one another is an exercise in futility maybe there’s a thin layer of hope that things could improve. Given the absolute and total rage being thrown by the left and right and the moment I don’t see how any of it ends well. Maybe seeding that kind of division is the point of the whole exercise. If that’s what our benevolent electronic overlords were going for, well played.

Swinging the ban hammer…

I follow a lot of really dissimilar people on Twitter. Politicians, comedians, real life friends, actors, talking heads, meme accounts, porn stars, bakers, and candlestick makers are all on the list. I follow them because I find them either entertaining, informative, or fun to look at. For me, Twitter is the electronic equivalent of walking down the street and hearing snippets of the conversations taking place around you. It has the decided advantage of not requiring you to be out walking an actual street interacting with actual people.

What so many of these seemingly dissimilar individuals appear to have in common is the swift and violent reaction to any comment or re-tweet with which they happen to disagree. I saw at least three posts this morning before 6AM that had some variation of “come at me, I’m itching to hit the block button.”

Sure, you’re perfectly free to block or unfollow someone at any time for any reason under the sun or for no reason at all. I post what I want, like what I want, and almost always give everyone else as wide a berth as possible to do the same. More and more, though, it feels like net denizens are just roving their feed looking for either a fight or an excuse to display how offended they are. Hey, feel free to swing that ban hammer till your heart’s content. It just seems to me there are better and more entertaining and productive uses for social media.

But I’m just a guy sitting here, so do whatever I guess.

Beyond repair…

On August 15th I entered what I thought would be a straight forward request with our computer help desk. Adobe Pro had started throwing errors and since the ability to read, edit, and sign pdf documents is more than than a once-a-day requirement in my job, I thought it might be nice to have that capability back.

I should have known it was not going to be an easy process when the confirmation email I got from the help desk had my name but described a problem someone on the other side of the country was trying to solve on their own machine. Actually, I should have known this process was going to be painful from the minute I discovered I was going to have to interact with the big help desk in the sky. Reducing the local service options and nationalizing IT help might have saved money but the user experience and wait times involved are appalling. At least I’m not paying for this service. Well, not paying for it directly, except for whatever of my tax dollars are being allocated for shitty IT support.

Over the last 13 days I’ve had three separate emails letting me know that Adobe was fixed and all is now well. All three of those emails have proven to be wrong, with the same inability to use Adobe continuing after each “fix.” This morning I was greeted with the 4th “we fixed it” email and discovered that not only does Adobe not work, but that the entire program has now disappeared from my computer. I suppose that’s one way to fix the problem. You can’t report a software error for software you don’t have. Of course I now have a two week and growing backlog of electronic paperwork that I need Adobe to process, so there’s that one small issue remaining.

I’m sure the men and women who work the Enterprise Service Desk are fine upstanding Americans who are doing great things for God and country. That, said, how it takes two weeks to fix an issue I could resolve on my home computer in less than 30 minutes simply leaves me with no option but to conclude that the “help” procedures for enterprise IT are broken entirely beyond repair.

Note: I should point out in fairness that just before I left for the day the issues was at long last resolved. At least tomorrow I know I can start clearing the backlog of Things Which Must be Digitally Signed. Sigh.