Rejected topics for Monday…

I have long suspected that what ultimately drives this blog – what makes for the most interesting content – is largely the angst that annoyance that comes from one or two major sources. The first, of course, is anything at all that relates to traveling to, enduring the day at, or coming back from the office. That’s a shitshow that is near universal and provides an endless well for new posts – or maybe it’s just the same fifteen or twenty posts repeating over time. The other main driver, one that’s more general, comes from any time that I’m required from dealing with the general public. My thoughts about people as a group are well known by now… like the office, though, they are an bottomless source of things to comment on.

Spending four or five days mostly ensconced at home with books and animals significantly decreases the number of things I feel the need to bitch and complain about. Sure, I guess I could ry my hand at writing some happy, uplifting shit, but that doesn’t strike me as anything close to speaking with my authentic voice… and I suspect it would be far less entertaining for anyone who happened to read it. If people really liked good news stories, the cable news channels would be filled with them rather than with the regular mayhem and chaos that they know puts eyes on advertising.

So what’s the point here? I’m not sure I have one beyond wanting to share what, I jotted down today and promptly rejected as topics for today:

  1. Earthquakes. Why the hell do people live in California? It burns down regularly and the damned earth shakes. I don’t care how nice the weather is, that seems like a bad tradeoff.
  2. Women’s World Cup. Team USA is getting hectored for “too much celebrating.” Fuck all the way off with that noise.
  3. 4th of July “military parade.” So the left decried the “military trade” in DC on the 4th of July… that turned out to be something like 4 vehicles put on static display near the Lincoln Memorial. Somehow I think the republic will endure.
  4. Jeffrey Epstein. If I were a billionaire, I’m 100% sure I’d find something to do with my time and money that’s way less likely to send me to prison than sex trafficking of minors. Money can buy a lot of things, but even giant honking piles of cash can’t fix stupid.

Sigh. I hate to admit it, but it’s probably best that the holiday is over and it’s time to get back to work and people. I’ll be annoyed as hell, but the writing will be better, so there’s that.

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.

Blackout…

One of the walls of the room wherein I’m trapped for eight hours a day features three large televisions. At any given time at least one of them shows a feed from the major cable news outlets shouting the current headlines at us. You don’t realize how little “new” news happens in a day until you spend months with rehashes and repeats washing over you every 30 minutes. It’s possible there’s a lot of news breaking out there somewhere, but it’s an awfully small portion that anyone is going to spend time talking about (and trying to monetize through advertising).

One of the better side effects of this 40-hour a week exposure is that my brain seems to have developed a basic self-preservation strategy of tuning almost all of it out. When someone asks “hey did you hear that?” I can usually respond honestly with, “no.” The other side effect I’ve noticed is that this constant stream of news has left me bereft of the desire to watch or seek out any news for the rest of the day.

With the exception of a few minutes of local weather and finding out the daily body count in Baltimore when I get home from work, the rest of the night is almost completely news free. I should show more of an interest, but I find this newfound disinterest to be a remarkably freeing experience. Sure, I still care what goes on in the world, but I’m becoming a hell of a lot more selective about what I want to burn an increasingly limited amount of mental bandwidth learning about or engaging on.

Some news is good for entertainment value (when bad things happen to stupid people), other bits are good to know because it impacts finances (business news and federal budget stuff), and finally there’s the space allocated to any news or information involving animals. Past that, maybe I should care, but I just don’t. Whatever intellectual energy I have left once I get home is far more effectively spent focused on the next spy novel or great thick books about war.

I intend this self-imposed (partial) news blackout to continue indefinitely.

Mother f%#@ing autoplay…

Whoever it was that came up with the idea of autoplaying a video as a website opens should rot in hell right next to the guy who invented the pop up ad. For most sites I’m fully understanding that generating income from ads is how you make your money. Running a website and keeping up content isn’t an inexpensive proposition. I spend $50 a year out of pocket to keep the lights on here in my little sector of the web. I could be ad driven and defray some of that cost, but I’m determined that it’s just not worth it. Ad free content is, in my opinion, better for the reader as well as for the writer.

Usually this is something that would wait for the weekly roundup of WAJTW, but it doesn’t feel right to pile it into a list with three other things when it is so patently obnoxious. I’ve steadfastly avoided downloading ad blocking software because I know that even on the internet everyone has bills to pay, but with the ever increasing intrusiveness of your ads, I’m only another few bad experiences away from giving up my scruples and loading up some software to kill off as many of these ads as possible.

Site owners need to find a better model. No matter how good your content is, if I have to deal with an advertisers video yelling at me with no apparent off switch or pop ups that take up two thirds of the screen space, I’m not interested enough in what you’re saying to wade through the mess to look at it. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but if advertisers designed spots that were somehow compelling instead of just being annoying maybe I’d actually click over and have a look. As it is, I’ll just close the screen and go find my content elsewhere.

There anyway…

I’ve seen a commercial on television for the US Postal Service over the last few days. I’m going to set aside the fact that there has been a postal service in this country since the revolution and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least bought a stamp or received a letter at some point in their lives and focus on what I really find odd about seeing the post office on TV.

The ad is clearly trying to drum up package handling business for the USPS; trying to remind their customers that they do more than “mail.” That’s well and good. The real issue of the thing is how they go about it. Whatever ad agency they paid millions to for this campaign didn’t focus on things like accuracy, on time delivery, or even cost. Instead they went an entirely different direction, literally having one of the people in the spot say the line “We’re going to be there anyway” while urging us to use them as our parcel deliverer of choice.

We’re going to be there anyway. It doesn’t exactly fill me with lofty visions or assurances of my package getting where it’s supposed to go. It feels like the barest step up from “Give us your stuff and hope for the best.” If they’re trying to swing my business away from UPS or FedEx, I’m afraid the post office is going to need to try something a little more confidence inspiring in their approach.

The truly disturbing part is that somewhere deep in the bowels of Post Office Headquarters, a committee of thoughtful and well compensated people thought that ad was right on point – the very best their money could buy. Maybe it was the least bad of several options, but still I think I’d have gone in a different direction. Then again, they got me to spend a whole 30 minutes thinking about the Post Office. Even if I’m not going to use them, that’s something.

Tinfoil hat society…

Let’s take a minute and look at the headlines tonight: Ebola is loose in the United States for the first time in recorded history, they’re protesting for democratic reforms in China, Europe’s economy appears to be at stall speed, and it wouldn’t take much more than a stiff wind to push ours in the same direction, the Secret Service is letting armed felons within arms reach of a sitting president. In general, civilization seems to be beset and besotted at every turn.

300px-Tin_foil_hat_2I’ve never been a dues-paying member of the Tinfoil Hat Society, but I do think the world we live in bears a closer look. Two things immediately jump to mind: 1) It doesn’t matter if it’s the local station, the cable networks or the internet, bad news makes people want to look and generates revenue from advertising sales; 2) Most of the asshattery I see in the world more or less confirms my preconceived notions about people as a group; and 3) Just by virtue of the law of large numbers, even paranoid people have to be right occasionally.

I could probably get a thousand new views a day if I gave this site over to ranting and raving about global conspiracies. The fact is, after having spent my adult life in public service I have my doubts about any organization being able to pull together a grand scheme to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids. More importantly, I throughly doubt their ability to do it in anything approaching secrecy. I mean I’m not allowed to build a 10 slide PowerPoint briefing without soliciting input from at least 14 other people, so you can understand how I might doubt the ability of an unknown global organization to rig the economy, unleashing a pandemic, and engineer a catastrophic war between East and West in complete secrecy.

I tend to think the long laundry list of things that go wrong are attributable to not much more than our collective bad decision making catching up with us. It feels like a simpler and more rational explanation than a transcontinental conspiracy bent on controlling everything everywhere. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.

Then again, my assumption of being right won’t keep me from picking up a box of latex gloves, a few bottles of alcohol, and some surgical masks. Just in case.

Wall-to-wall…

I’m a news junkie. Most weekends, you’ll find the television parked on FoxNews, CNN, or SkyNews running as background noise while I go about the day. While I’m not selling short the importance of knowing why a fully-loaded Boeing 777 inexplicably disappeared three weeks ago, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that at this point, we don’t need 24×7, wall-to-wall coverage of it as a news story. In fact, I’d go so far as to posit that “nothing new to report” is the antithesis of “news.”

Like any other television outlet, the news channels aren’t so much about their content as they are avenues to put consumer’s eyes on advertisements. Even after three weeks, apparently the missing airliner story brings in the viewers, so that’s what they’re staying with. As with most stories of this type, the fact that it’s still commanding the top over every cycle says more about us than it does about any of the news outlets. Still, I’m a little curious what else has been happening on the planet while we’ve all been busy looking at grainy satellite photos of a decidedly empty slice of the Indian Ocean.

It feels like a fair guess that there might be one or two other vaguely important things going on somewhere. I’m sure right now this story feels like the most important issue in the world for the friends and family of the people who are still missing, but for the rest of us, it’s starting to feel a lot like rubbernecking… and that’s just tacky.