On tracking the virus…

I’ve written before about the decline of personal privacy. We slap RFID tags on our vehicles to make paying tolls marginally less painful. We carry around a mobile tracking device in our pockets. Many of us live with home security cameras that can see all but the most private moments.

The tech industry’s move towards developing apps that use our phone’s onboard GPS to track proximity to potentially infected people may sound like an altruistic use of technology to improve public health. Outside of saying they’re working on this “neat new thing,” not much is being said about the implications that come along with using such a personal tracker. Without knowing what, if any, legal safeguards will be in place, details of what beyond proximity is being collected, how long it will be stored, who will have access to it, how it will be used, and what control I will have over what’s collected, I have to say it’ll be pass from me. 

I’ve signed over some degree of privacy to big tech already because I value the services they provide. At its heart, though, my cell phone is nothing more than a tool. I have no intention of taking life guidance from it – or from Apple or Google or any of the other firms racing into this space. 

I won’t be wearing a tinfoil hat anytime soon, but I feel like sooner rather than later I’ll find my phone living in a Faraday bag except for moments when I need to use the damned thing.

Chrome…

Google Chrome is a remarkably powerful web browser. When running on Mac OS it’s also an incredible power and memory hog. At least once a week it bloats so badly that it makes my desktop unusable. Starting today I’m going to take a trial run of living life without Chrome.

Since it’s Mac native, I’ve given Safari the honor of being the first test platform. Although today’s tests have been limited, it’s held up admirably – and more importantly hasn’t slowed the machine down to an infuriating place. As it turns out the threshold for victory in these real life tests isn’t going to be all that high. Anything that lets me get through a week without crashing the computer will likely get a pass as a better option than continuing on with Chrome.

There was a time I’d want to go out and try all the obscure browsers hoping to turn up something with wow factor to spare. These days, I’m mostly about simplicity in use rather than wow. I don’t care so much how the machine runs just so long as it does. I’m not going to spend a lot of time wanting to tinker around under the hood until it behaves “just so.”

I’d love to place all the blame squarely on Google here, but if I’m fair, I’m currently running a slightly more than 4 year old machine that was a touch under powered when it came out of the box. The ever increasing demand for raw processing power in a computer hasn’t been kind to my Mini. Truth is, switching browsers is probably the last ditch effort to coax a bit more life out of the machine before bringing a replacement online. If I were smart, I’d go ahead and make that purchase now instead of when something finally fails on me… but then needing to buy a computer right-the-hell-now after the old one has crapped out is pretty much one of my oldest continuously observed traditions.

Ditching Chrome won’t solve all that ails computing here, but it could well alleviate the most obnoxious symptom of aging equipment. For today, that would be more than good enough.

Don’t be lame…

Sitting on each and every desk in my vast office complex is a magic box. When the electricity is on and all the pipes are clear it allows everyone to connect to a magical place called the internet. The internet is a wild place, ruled by porn, social media, and pictures of cats, but it’s also a place to go when you need information. It’s almost like someone went to the bother of making the sum total of human knowledge available for just the cost of a few keystrokes.

Unless you’re trying to read an article posted on the Wall Street Journal, information in this magical land of the internet is almost always free for the taking. If you type your question or even just a few major key words into Google, who I think is probably a wizard or maybe some kind of minor heathen deity, it will spit back all manner of interesting factoids. It’s like having a magic 8-ball right on your desk without worrying that it’s going to start dripping purple-tinted water. Neat!

I’m encouraging each and every one of you to take full advantage of this magic information-sharing box on your desk before giving in to the temptation of blasting out an email asking someone to provide information that’s already sitting there for the taking. Let’s face it, gang, asking someone else to Google something for you is just lame and I know you don’t want to be lame, right?

Nested…

After sitting on the kitchen counter for a week (as most small home improvement projects do when I bring them home), I got the Nest thermostat plugged in this morning. All I can say at this point is that it successfully turns the furnace and air conditioning on when requested – but like most other people who buy a “smart” appliance, I’m really more interested in how it’s going to perform without direct human intervention.I can’t give you a review of how well that part works just yet, but will once we’ve passed the 30 day mark.

Installation was just about as simple as you could hope to make it. Two screws, four wires, and then snapping the “brain” into place is all there is. All-in, the process, including setting up bells, whistles, and cleaning up the packaging took about 40 minutes. That included drinking a cup of coffee and spending five minutes in the basement (where I had to go to kill power at the electric panel) looking for something unrelated in the boxes that still live down there.

Based on where my thermostat is located in the house, I have some lingering doubts about how well it will “learn” my living patterns over the next few days. That’s easy enough to remedy by manually setting a schedule for the system, but that does take away at least some small virtue of this type of automation. Still, being the creature of habit I am, a set schedule may prove to be more effective.

Regardless of how it gets to learn my preferences – either by observation or from me just telling it what to do – Nest surely has to do a better job than the old school mercury switch it’s replacing. Once you’re past the idea that you’re giving up another little slice of your privacy to a wholly owned subsidiary of Google (and the price), I think it’s going to be a hard device not to like.

If nothing else, it does look awfully nice hanging there on the wall.

A total slut…

For the last few weeks, one particular phrase keeps popping up on the list of terms that people search for when they end up finding my blog on Google. That phrase: Hot Lesbian Cheerleader.

I can only imagine how disappointed they are when they click in and see that, in fact, http://www.jeffreytharp.com has very little do do with that particular fetish. As much of a pity as that is, I’m glad they stop by from time to time. When it comes to visits, hit counts, and clicks, I’m happy to be a total slut. I’m just happy to see the counter going up, regardless of why they happen to be here. Maybe that makes me a bad blogger, but to paraphrase Eric Cartman, it’s my sexy blog and I’ll do what I want.

For those of you who stopped by hoping for hot lesbian cheerleaders, yeah, I’m sorry about that. Clearly you were lured here under false pretenses. Personally I’d complain to Google, because honestly, if that’s what you’re looking for, I’m the last thing you really want to find in your search results.

Go Google Youself…

Three years ago, if I googled myself, I think the blog I was running at the time started showing up somewhere around page five or six of the search results. A few minutes ago I typed my name into the search bar instead of the address bar and ended up googling myself by accident. I swear it’s not something I do on a regular basis. Seriously. I don’t. Honest.

As it turns out, a few years make a difference in the standings and there I am right there as the second listing whenever anyone searches for “Jeffrey Tharp”. Let’s just ignore the reasons why anyone might be doing that for the moment. As it turns out, the #1 Jeffrey Tharp in all of the internet is not yours truly, but rather an orthopedic surgeon based in Ohio. He seems like a good enough doc, rated better than average from what I can see. But still, I lust after his coveted 1st place search result location. Does that give you any indication of how slow a week it’s been? Yes, I’ve had time tonight to sit here and ponder zen and the nature of Google search results.

All I can say, Dr. Jeffrey S. Tharp of Akron, Ohio, is I’m coming for you. Do you hear the footsteps? You’ve probably improved the lives of hundreds and thousands of people with your healing arts, but I’m a go to source of humor, sarcasm, and snarky commentary for at least several people who I can name off the top of my head. I think we can all see why I should be first in the rankings, right? So you can either stand aside gracefully to let me claim my rightful place atop page one, or I’ll be forced to continue blogging five days a week until I simply overwhelm Google with the volume of subpages linked from http://www.jeffreytharp.com. The choice is yours. I know you’ll do the honorable thing.

Explorer…

Until the arrival of the new computers, the fact that many of us installed Firefox as our default web browser wasn’t quite officially sanctioned, but wasn’t banned either. I’d have still rather used Chrome, but that wasn’t even considered worthy of being an option. Now look, I’m all in favor of network security, but that doesn’t have to mean we get stuck using antiquated software – and yes, even a three year old browser feels antiquated after you’re use to using one of the other available options – you know, the ones that have been released in the current decade.

Hey, I’m super excited about getting a new computer. It’s swell that I can now unplug the machine and not have the battery die immediately. It’s just on this one little point of software where we’re having a real problem. I’m sure Internet Explorer works just fine for most people under most conditions, but on a machine that’s already bogged down with metric tons of security software and on a network that no one would call speedy under the best of conditions, IE pretty much adds insult to injury.

We’re a nation that prides itself on technological innovation, so please, for the love of God, his saints, and all things good and holy, can we find a way to look at the interwebs that doesn’t involve dragging out this old warhorse of a program? We’re seriously not doing ourselves any favors here. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and ask about the nine times I had to force quit Explorer before I went to lunch this morning.

And while you’re at it, can you please stop resetting my default homepage. I know our web address and I find it a lot less useful in my daily work than Google is. Sigh.

Illusion…

I can see from the outcry that’s been consuming the world wide interwebs this afternoon that Google must have done something that someone, somewhere decided was evil. Yawn. So what? Google is a multi-billion dollar company working hard to build additional value for its shareholders. Google might own and operate file sharing and storage sites, a ridiculously reliable (and free) email service, blogging platforms, online productivity tools, social media and gaming sites, and its own phone company, but don’t think for a minute that any of those things are really Google’s main business line. They provide all of these things at no monetary cost to the consumer because they are, ultimately, in the sales and marketing business. Their business model involves nothing more scandalous than matching up buyers and sellers for just about any product or service you or I can imagine. Instead of the targeted billboards and newspaper inserts of yesteryear, they use giant server farms and targeted web ads, but it’s really just using a modern means to achieve an age-old end.

From what I’ve been able to gather, sometime a month or two from now, all of us that use Google will be opreating under a new privacy policy that covers every site under their corporate umberella. Personally, I think that kind of cross-platform fusion is precisely what the internet is supposed to be about. Why shouldn’t my experience with Gmail, YouTube, Picasa, and the rest of the Google family of sites be exactly the same instead of each having its own, slightly different take on privacy. If nothing else, the new universal policy will let us all know precisely the position Google is taking. Then we can make an informed decision about whether we accept that policy or not.

If it turns out I can’t live with the new privacy policy, as big as they are, Google isn’t the only game in town. I’m pretty sure I could still dredge up the password from my old Hotmal account if I really had to. Then again, they’re a free service run by another conglomerate who’s trying to sell stuff to me too. Maybe it would be better if I just bought my own mailserver and managed all my own correspondence through JeffMail.com. Alternatively, I could find a company with a privacy policy I believe in and pay them cold, hard cash to provide me all the services that Google wraps up under one umbrella. None of those things seems very likely to happen, though. Instead, I’ll click “accept” when given the opportunity and continue my life without giving it much more thought.

The internet isn’t your house. What we’re doing here isn’t happening behind closed doors, especially when we’re not the ones who own the servers, routers, and other equipment involved in bringing the world together electronically. We certainly have an expectation that companies will make diligent efforts to protect our personally identifiable information like social security and credit card numbers or our account passwords, but expecting an ironclad veil of privacy surrounding our online habits and interaction is, in a phrase, dumber than dog shit. Here’s some helpful advice from your kindly Uncle Jeff: If you don’t want people to find out what you’re up to, don’t do it online. I promise that Google, Facebook, the deposed Nigerian prince, your long lost cousin from Dipshitistan, and possibly the CIA are watching.

10K…

According to the handy little section on metrics that WordPress provides, I’ve been plugging away here for 24 months now. The reason I bring that up is that sometime in the last day or two, the page passed the 10,000 visitor mark. As always on these little occasions, I wanted to say thanks to everyone who’s playing along at home. Sure, Google hits that in a fraction of a day, but since I’m not really providing any function or service other than freelance ranting, I’m plenty pleased with the numbers the way they are.

After the week long break for Christmas and the eternal head cold that made focusing on writing something close to impossible, I’m hoping that thing will get back to what passes for normal around here pretty quickly. Since the sick appears to be passing from debilitating to merely annoying, I’d say we’re on the right track. So that’s a long way of saying I’m hoping to ease back into the whole writing thing. Bear with me as I blow out the cobwebs and get back to business.