What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Home security. I’ve made a point to have an alarm system in ever house I’ve ever owned. Over the years and moving from house to house the systems have become progressively more complex, evolving from a few simple sensors towards something that’s constantly monitoring and able to show me the health and safety of the homestead in real time. In all my years of using a home security system, though, the only thing it’s ever actually alerted me to was various problems with the security system itself. It’s probably a good problem to have and I’m certainly glad it’s not constantly alerting me to real world problems at home… but I could have done with a little less time spent running diagnostics and troubleshooting earlier this week.

3. Better late than never. Ten minutes before 3PM, the powers that be expressed their concern about the weather and sent everyone home “two hours early.” That’s a fine gesture, of course, except that I would have had to travel back in time to take advantage of this generous offer. On my own authority I dumped in a leave request and departed the area at 2:30. It’s a safe bet to assume that I value my own neck a hell of a lot more than any of the aforementioned powers do anyway. My commute home took twice the normal amount of time and would have easily taken 3x as long had I waited around for others to make a decision and found 20,000 other people all trying to make a break for it at the same time. Thanks to the vagaries of the federal personnel system, though, even though I only took 90 minutes of leave and the powers subsequently approved a blanket 2 hours, I’m still out the 90 minutes I asked for because it was on file before the blanket leave was approved. Maybe it’s an even trade since I’m not stuck sitting on the road somewhere between here and there. Still, it’s just a helpful reminder that Uncle doesn’t put much of a premium on free thinking despite whatever lip service may be paid doing an “individual risk assessment.” That said, I regret nothing and will always use my own best judgement where issues of life, health, and safety are concerned – even if that means putting my money or my leave balance where my mouth is. It would just be nice if we didn’t play the same stupid game and win the same stupid prizes every single year.

4. Florida. I’ve mentioned the Sunshine State once already this week, but they can’t seem to keep themselves out of the news. I just find it mind boggling that all these years after the contested 2000 election any county in Florida has this much trouble counting little pieces of paper even when given the benefit of large and powerful electronic tools to do so. Surely if we line up enough Floridians they can account for enough fingers and toes to do the damned math, right?

Print…

As I sat down to write this tonight, it occurs to me that I wrote on a very similar topic more than five years ago. The situation was somewhat different, but it all hinged on the increasingly unbelievable proposition that in the age of electronic communication we’re still printing things out for people to read “later.”

With people running hither and yon armed with a laptop, a tablet, and a Blackberry, there really isn’t any good reason why anyone should need to print out an email and stick it in a file so someone can read it. I’m sure there are reasons it happens, I simply contend that none of them are particularly good reasons.

There are any number of ways the printed word on a high quality piece of paper can be a real joy. Going for the same effect with a run of the mill email feels a bit like going nuclear to solve your backyard bug problem. It’s the year 2016, after all. The second decade of the 21st century.

I simply can’t fathom how “print out that email” is still a thing.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I have an exercise bike I’ve used pretty consistently since I lived in Tennessee. It was my one concession to coming home from siting at a desk all day and then sitting down at home and sitting in front of another monitor for three or four hours. Since I moved to the new place here, it’s been a dust collector. With the yard demanding less attention and slowly gearing up for the part of the year when I don’t want to be outside, I though it was high time to get it our of semi-retirement and get back into the routine… which would have been good except for the electrical system that fried somewhere between here and there. As per usual, due to planned obsolescence the repair parts commonly available don’t quite fit, so the whole things is sitting in pieces in the back bedroom waiting to see whether it gets repaired, replaced, or if I just say the hell with my head nod towards exercise.

2. Every afternoon I pass a deli that offers steamed crabs in the summer. They’re good crabs. A few times I summer I’ll stop on a Friday night and pick up a dozen with a six pack. It’s hard not to like that kind of dinner. The thing that annoys me is the enormous sign that says “CRABS!!! EBT Welcome!!!” People end up getting food assistance for all manner or reason, but there’s just something about a taxpayer subsidized steamed crab dinner that makes me twitchy. With a bushel of #1 jimmy’s running upwards of $200 in mid-summer, it feels like an extravagant thing to even advertise. Paying for the essentials is one thing, but using public assistance for what by any assessment is a pure luxury feels wrong. If that makes me sound like a judgmental prick, well, ok. Maybe I’d be less annoyed if someone else was paying for my blue crabs.

3. I’ve seen several articles this week where robots are taking the place of flesh and blood workers. I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised by this. With the push for a $15 an hour minimum wage I suspect we’ll see a lot more people replaced with technology. Those jobs that can be automated, will be automated. Gaining operational efficiencies like that will be the corporate solution for paying $15 an hour to people doing work that can’t be effectively automated. No business that wants to stay in business is going to stand quietly and take it in the bottom line. They’ll find their cost savings somewhere – and with the biggest expense of many service oriented businesses being personnel costs, none of us should be surprised where they go to find those savings. It’s what happens when we pass laws without consideration for second or third level effects. Whoops.

PowerPoint Service Announcement…

I get it. I’m a PowerPoint Ranger. I’ve got my 5000 hour tab. I can rock the old school black on white or jam it with 100 megs of media content. We can do those things. We *can* destroy the network with the sheer size of our files. We have the technology – Thought technically, I suppose I have the technology. I wouldn’t use my POS employer-issued Dell to build such a piece of work, but I digress.

Friends, my point is that if you’re not on your guard, PowerPoint will slip in and destroy you in the night. You’ll start off with version one and two. A few days later, you’ll find yourself at version 8. Out of nowhere, version 16 rises from the early morning mist… surely version 17 is only a day away. I can only warn you that no good ever came from double digit versions. Down that path lies only ruin. It’s too late for me, but you, you can save yourselves.

I urge all of you – just say no to multi-version PowerPoints. No good can come from them. Be proud of your tabs – but only use your skills for good. The path to PowerPoint glory will tempt you, but never, ever forget that with those tabs, comes great responsibility. Use them wisely.

Let it ring…

On every cell phone produced in the last decade, there’s a switch, or a button, or a setting that allows you move almost effortlessly between notification modes – Silent, vibrate, or loud full blown dance party ring. If you work room full of cubicles with 20 other people and want to use your cellie while you’re there, you might want to consider trying out either the silent or vibrate options so thoughtfully build in to your phone. I can assure you in no uncertain terms that the laughing you hear on the other side of the wall every time your phone rings is me – and a combination of disbelief that you don’t see anything wrong with just letting it ring at any time and the fact that it takes you as much as 10 seconds to answer it once it starts ringing (yes, I’ve timed it).

Look, I’m the last person on earth to tell someone they shouldn’t be using a cell phone at every possible opportunity. I’m practically obsessed with mine. A little discretion, though, goes a long way and won’t take any additional effort on your part. I’m pretty sure that’s important to you. So how about doing us all a favor and checking out that vibrate function, ok? There are plenty of things to mock in the workplace without this needing to be one of them. Thanks bunches!

Traveling lite…

I spent twelve days on the road over the last two weeks and it seems like a good point to make some observations on living with the iPad now that it’s had time to become a regular part of my routine. The short version is that it holds up remarkably well – Perhaps even better than expected. While I was on the road, I shifting seamlessly between the iPhone and iPad. I had even packed my MacBook Pro, but didn’t ever have cause to turn it on. For someone whose sense of wellbeing is almost defined by having a connection, that’s saying something.

On the more nuts and bolts level, battery life continues to exceed expectations and will last all day under all by the heaviest use. High portability meant that more often than not, it was riding shotgun in the truck when I went anywhere and was subject to not-quite-extreme heat when left there for a few hours at a time. I’m not exactly hard on equipment, but it’s held up to everything I’ve asked it to do and probably has oomph to spare.

The only complaint I have after a few months use is, not surprisingly, the fingerprints. Given a little OCD, they could drive a guy just short of ’round the bend. Keeping a screen wipe within reach is strongly advised. Even at that, the prints don’t really detract all that much from the screen… unless you’ve already made up your mind that it’s going to bother you. I still wouldn’t want to rely solely on a tablet for text heavy blogging or major productivity, but for knocking around the interwebs, occasional forum posts, and keeping your library with you everywhere, it’s hard to beat.

Reader…

I’ve liked books since I was a kid. In 5th grade when the other kids wanted to play kickball, I had my nose buried in a biography of Douglas MacArthur. Seems I could never walk by a book store without at least popping in for a look and I would never have dreamt of leaving the house without a least one book stashed somewhere. Unfortunately, stashed is usually where they would end up staying. It would take me months to read a book carving out five or ten minutes at a time to focus on it.

I’ve been hesitant, even hostile, to the idea of using an e-reader. In fact, I blasted the concept pretty roundly right here not so very long ago. The historian in me couldn’t quite come to terms with the idea that books could be anything other than words printed on paper and bound. It seems that, at least in this case, I may have been misinformed.

I’ve bene regularly using the Kindle app on my iPad for the last few months and my book consumption has been way up. As much as I hate to admit it, it just makes reading more convenient. Since the Kindle app crosses devices, I can start a page on my iPad and then finish the same page on my iPhone without missing a word. The app records where I stopped and picks up there regardless of what device I happen have in my hand. Add in over-the-air downloads from Amazon and it’s pure convenience… and we all know how I feel about that.

The e-reader has basically replaced the printed book for me. I don’t anticipate that the books filling shelves in the office will ever go anywhere, but I definitely won’t be adding to their number nearly as often. Of course some titles aren’t electronic and some may never be, so I suspect that there will always be room in my heart for both print and electronic books, but for sheer ease of use, I’m officially leaning way into the electronic camp. If you’re a reader and haven’t given it a chance yet, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Reserved…

I’ve been kicking it around since the early hours of the morning, when I caught the first whiff that today might be the day when Apple raises the curtain just a touch and opens the e-store for iPad pre-orders. Should I rush in with zelotic fervor of a true convert and scoop up a wi-fi model on it’s first day of availability… Or should I play a slightly longer game and wait for the “late April” estimated ship date for the 3G model? You’ll no doubt note that there was never any real consideration of not buying one of them. It’s simply too much of a new, shiny toy to pass up at this point.

Instinctively, I lean slightly towards the slightly more expensive 3G model if for no other reason than it provides an “always on” connection and the no-contract $30/month data fee is actually pretty reasonable by AT&T Mobility standards. Of course the only place I spend any real amount of time that doesn’t have a wi-fi connection is the office, so that tilts the scale back in favor of saving $30 a month and picking up the wi-fi model. With the availability of free and low-cost wi-fi in retail locations becoming almost ubiquitous and the continuing roll-out of personal wi-fi hotspots (MiFi) by cellular providers it’s hard to make the case for 3G this time around.

But really what the final decision came down to was much more basic than any analysis: The wi-fi version is the only one that’s going to be available at initial release on April 3rd. All of that was the big run up to announcing that as of around 10:00 PM, I am now the proud pre-orderer of a 16 GB wi-fi iPad to be picked up at the Apple Store here in Memphis on the morning of April 3rd. If it turns out I can’t live without the 3G connection I’ll either pick up a MiFi subscription from Sprint or Verizon and run my own hotspot or put the wi-fi model up for sale and bring the 3G version into the inventory as a replacement unit.

In case anyone is wondering about my logic for ordering the smallest memory option, I have to admit that I’ve never come close to using the available memory on any of my iPhones (including my first 8 GB model). If I were into movies on the go, I would probably have gone with the 32 GB, but my real plan at the moment is to use this thing as an e-reader, browser, and note taker around the office. 16 GB should be more than sufficient to fill the bill for that. Besides, no doubt version 2 will be released in 6-12 months and I’ll just have to end up upgrading then anyway.

Wired…

Saturday morning is usually my time to attempt to bring order out of chaos here at the house… laundry, cleaning, etc. While I’m not quite a neat freak, I do tend towards a touch of OCD about where things are and how they are organized. It’s not so much that everything has a place and it must be in it as much as it’s just a deep-seated desire for everything to have a place when I’m done with it. For the most part that’s easy enough to manage… until I come to the kitchen counter. The coffee pot, toaster oven, microwave, and liquor all have their place; no problems there. My current OCD-driven mission is to find a good way to manage all the various charging equipment that keeps me tethered to the electronic universe.

Without accounting for any future additions, my “must charge” arsenal includes charging cables for the following: iPhone, bluetooth, BlackBerry, e-cigs, and camera batteries. The result, as expected, is something worse than the spaghetti behind the average television set strewn across a goodly sized chunk of my kitchen counter. I’ve looked at several “charging station” options but all of the ones I’ve seen in the flesh feel a little shoddy; mainly pressboard and plastic. I love the concept, but so far hate the execution, which is why I’ve resisted the temptation to order some of what I’ve seen online. The simple solution would be having a power strip sitting full-time on the counter and that just looks, well, bad to me.

I know some of you out there reading are bigger technophiles than I am, so my question: What is your solution to make charging multiple devices slightly less tacky?