Shouting into the void…

I’m throttling down on social media. Over the last few days, I’ve slashed and burned through Twitter to drop a lot of follows and focus in the content I want to see. Instagram was already kind of a dead letter for me after their last update. If I have to go through multiple convolutions to see people I chose to follow, versus those you want me to see, your app has very limited utility for me.

Finally, I turned my attention to Facebook and deactivated an old page I had set up when I was doing a lot more writing than reading. If anyone was following my lack of updates over there, sorry about that. I should have killed off that page a long time ago, but it’s done now. My personal Facebook page could probably use a good “friends” trimming too, but I’ll leave that effort for my next fit of streamlining and trying to make my social media footprint more useful. At least in its present form, Facebook has the advantage of being filled with people I know – or those I’ve known in years gone by. I’m less inclined to do any wholesale cleaving there… for the moment.

I’ve been looking at Mastodon for the last week or two. I like the concept, but don’t particularly want to make the jump to add yet another platform unless Elon’s fuckery on Twitter just gets to be too much to bear… or he collapses the entire company, which given his performance over the last couple of days doesn’t feel entirely out of the realm of the possible.

Look, I remain a big fan of social media. It’s given me insights and let me talk to people there’s no chance I’d have ever encountered organically. I’m never going to be one of these people who abandons the internet, tosses their cell phone in the sea, and proclaims themselves “free.” I find there is plenty of useful bits left even with vocal minority of users trying to suck up all available oxygen in the room. Still, I seem to be at a crossroads in terms of how I consume my media – and I’ll be much more purposeful going forward with where and on whom I allocate time and attention.

Not to worry, though, I’m sure I’ll still populate Facebook with my stream of consciousness rantings. There’s nothing I enjoy more, after all, than a good shout into the void.

The agitating present…

Having spent the last week and a half taking in a steady diet of new from the UK, I tried this morning to adjust back to information from sources closer to home. It wasn’t a particularly happy reunion.

Aside from the local weather forecast, I’d be hard pressed to tell you about a single story covered my go-to station out of Baltimore that I could gin up any interest in at all. Murder, mayhem, hints of corruption – nothing new under the sun. Switching over to CNN it was the predictable drumbeat of catastrophic weather, rerunning the election of 2020 and the general fuckery surrounding it, and all manner of talking heads I’m increasingly convinced don’t have the first idea about what’s happening or why. 

I’m sure there are a host of things I should be interested in, or that I should at least have a bit of general knowledge about, but friends I’m here to tell you that I just don’t. Maybe it’s simply news overload. Maybe it’s too many sources peddling a decidedly weak product. Whatever the cause, I’m far more interested in reading analysis of what happened a continent away 500 years ago than I am in lending my eyes and ears to what happened yesterday thirty miles from home.

I’m sure once the midterm election gets a little closer or the case against the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice ever gets a bit of traction, I’ll tune back in – or at least gin up a modicum of interest. For the immediate future, if it’s not coming through BBC, The Times, or one of the news aggregators I glance at in the morning, I’m going to be ok not paying attention.

If something legitimately important happens, I’m sure it will break through the static. Until then, I’ll be perfectly content studying the past rather than being thoroughly agitated by the present.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Estimates. Over the course of the last two days, I’ve tried to come to terms with how bad we are at estimating in complex situations. Starting Tuesday night, the “estimated” time to have power back on 9PM, then 11PM, then unknown, then 3 PM Wednesday, then unknown again, then 11:30 PM, and then finally 11:30 PM Thursday. Grid power came back around midnight on Thursday, so I have no idea where that final estimate came from. This all transpired over the course of 30 hours. I mean wouldn’t it be better to just say we don’t have any fucking idea when things will happen than engage in wildly over optimistic dart throwing? 

2. Connectivity. It’s not the fact that the power is out that’s the problem. In a pinch, I can always make my own. The larger issue is that when the power does happen to go out, I lose nearly all connectivity. Despite Verizon showing that I have two solid bars of LTE coverage, the best I can manage are text messages and some highly garbled phone calls. It’s a $1000 smart phone reduced to less capability than I had from my old Nokia 3310. It’s almost like those “service bars” are a marketing gimmick and have no actual relationship to your actual signal strength. 

3. Social media. You don’t realize how much time you waste on social media until you can’t waste time on social media. Unfortunately, that largely seems to happen when you have nothing but time in front of you. Fortunately, I have a finely honed ability to entertain myself indefinitely, but in a warped and twisted way I did miss being able to have news and world events beamed directly into my eye holes 24/7 via Twitter. 

Joe who?

Let me say up front that I wouldn’t recognize Joe Rogan if he happened to be sitting right next to me while I’m typing this. I don’t have any idea what his background is or why an apparently large number of people seem to listen to his podcast and believe whatever it is he says. I’m not even intrigued enough about him to bother doing the Google search that would inevitably provide me with that information. 

So, with my understanding that Joe is “some guy with a podcast,” let me dive in with some basic thoughts:

1. Celebrity =/= Knowledgeable. I don’t get my medical advice from Kylie Jenner or my financial advice from random TicTokers. I’m not at all sure why there seems to be a popular correlation between someone being well known and the need to give their opinion any more weight than that given to any other random stranger from the internet.

2. The “Lincoln” Principle. One of the quotes most often attributed to Abraham Lincoln (without, interestingly, any supporting contemporary evidence) is, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” If people, in mass, are fool enough to be taken in by whatever internet huckster happens to be popular in the moment, there’s really not much to be done to protect them from themselves. In this country, we’re generally free to be just as stupid as we want to be.

3. There is no “standard” standard for responding to bad behavior. Whoopi Goldberg got suspended by her parent corporation over making a decidedly ill-advised comment about the Holocaust. Joe Rogan, in contrast, is free to pump out buckets full of misinformation to an apparently gullible audience with little or no oversight or consequence from his corporate host. 

Is one worse than the other? That’s hard to say since what the standard of what constitutes bad behavior is nearly impossible to define in a way that’s universally acceptable.

I use to watch Fox News back when they were just the outlet that reported news from a right of center perspective. As their content shifted increasingly away from news towards commentary and hyper-partisan propaganda, I switched them off in favor of other news sources. I think, perhaps, our individual ability to choose is the real point here. None of us are under any personal obligation to watch or listen to content from any specific source. Expecting “big business” to protect our delicate eyes and ears from words and images we don’t personally agree with doesn’t feel like a solution that goes anywhere we’d really want to be by the time it’s finished.

The wild west of podcast, blogs, and electronic media overall has given us an embarrassing wealth of resources representing every political and social stripe. The catch is, this degree of choice means that every individual has to make a choice about what media they consume – and what sources they believe. We can collectively encourage listening or watching content into which some academic rigor has been put, but we can’t, in the end, fix stupid.

More toxic than Facebook…

The same people I see commenting that Facebook (or all of social media) is toxic are the same ones plugging away, sharing memes, articles, and generally being fully immersed social media day in and day out. That’s the catch. No one is making you, me, or anyone else use Facebook. No one is forced to have the app on their phone. Not one single person is mandated to log in everyday and participate in the electronic circus.

It seems to me that if social media is the electronic equivalent of having lead paint, asbestos insulation, and sewer gas filling your home, there’s a simple step any one of us could take to avoid it. We could just not use it. We could delete our accounts or not sign on. 

That, of course, demands a level of personal responsibility and being accountable for our own decisions. It’s far easier to go ahead and blame Zuck for something we individually control with no ifs, ands, or buts.

It’s the same story for the inevitable subset that gnash their teeth over violent television, profanity on radio, or pornography. The easiest thing in the world is to just change the channel, find a different station, or not look. “I saw something I don’t like, so I changed the channel” doesn’t make for a particularly engaging story, though.

My problem has never been with content on television, radio, or the internet. The far more nefarious problem is this group of people who want to enforce their particular brand of morality on everyone else like some kind of half-assed digital Taliban. 

I’d like to say I’m perplexed about how and why so many struggle with simply turning off whatever it is they find objectionable… but it seems all too obvious that they would much rather have the issue to worry themselves (and the rest of us) over than to find an actual solution to their troubles.

I find that far more toxic than anything Facebook can throw at me.

Excess free time…

Being on leave at the moment, I’m living in a bit of a strange gray area – somewhere between paying attention to what’s happening in the broader world and not. The further I slide into this little vacation-in-place, the more “and not” that area takes up. Dispensing ear scratches, fiddling around the house, and the mountain of books I live with are slowly expanding to take up all the available white space. It’s hardly the worst way I’ve spent my time.

It would be easy enough to slip back into a mode of ranting about the president, or Congress, or the Great Plague. The closest thing I’ve come to that, though, is occasionally kicking a hornet’s nest on Twitter just to see what kind of reaction I can gin up. It’s a mildly entertaining way to pass the time. As it turns out, according to anti-vax / plague deniers on that particular platform, I’m a damned dirty commie who should shut my stupid mouth. Like I said, it’s entertaining enough, but not exactly an intellectual challenge. I am learning to appreciate their furious thrashing when I only respond to them using gifs, though.

I know I shouldn’t be using this time to feed the trolls, but honestly, I just can’t help myself. There are some honest to God issues in the world, but getting your blood pressure up on the internet doesn’t feel like a way to solve any of them. I’m sure the novelty will wear off in the next couple of days.

It’s a good thing the books and animals are always standing by to fill in as much of the excess free time as comes along. I mean I could finally get around to filling the 852 nail holes the previous owner left in the walls here on the homestead… but since that project has been on the list for five years and hasn’t gotten done yet, chances aren’t so good for it making the cut.

OK, Boomer…

There are currently entire “news” articles posted on major media outlets debating the validity of using the phrase “OK, Boomer” to dismiss an individual, a group, or an entire conversation.

In these articles they’re worried that such phrases are ageist… or some other kind of -ist that’s perhaps more or less fashionable. There’s outcry in the comments that the same people who decry internet bullying have picked the same kind of bullying up to swing as their own cudgel. All around there is clutching of pearls and faux outrage.

Except here, of course. There’s no outrage here, either faux or real, because of the words people use. There’s no outrage here because I’m a gown adult who doesn’t derive my self worth or intrinsic value based on what the People of the Internet say. Although I often enough find the Boomers and the Snowflakes obnoxious enough, neither seem to rise to the level of something that’s worth paying all that much attention to – and certainly don’t pack the power to send me scurrying for the protection of a safe space.

Somewhere in the last couple of decades we’ve collectively lost the innate ability to muddle through the day without needing coddled. It’s a personal failing that we seem determined to celebrate. The catch is, the world doesn’t give two good shits about your feelings. It’ll steal your lunch money, make you cry, and then come by and kick you in the jewels at dinner time.

My immodest advice to both the Boomers and the Snowflakes who both seem stuck on the notion that simply existing makes them special? Toughen up, Susie. The sooner we all remember the world doesn’t owe us a goddamned thing the better off we’re all going to be.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Data mining. Every time I start thinking that data mining is becoming too invasive and privacy becoming too fragile, the interent reminds me that it’s still pretty far away from going Skynet and killing us all. You see, I know this because companies that specialize mining “big data” keep feeding me ads about how to find and finance the “perfect engagement ring.” I’ll admit to having a passing interest in gemstones, but I can’t claim a need or interest in actually buying them. I have neither the inclination or reason to do so… and I’ve never once searched the internet for one. The cloud might know our reading tastes and hold the secrets to our collective perversions in our search results, but in many ways it doesn’t feel like the interent knows me at all.

2. Domestic enemies. All newly hatched federal employees take an oath of office. The one I took isn’t too far different from the one taken by a typical Army officer or even the one sworn by members of Congress. Unless I missed an unprinted annex or codicil, though, my oath to support and defend the Constitution didn’t include an oath of poverty and it certainly wasn’t an oath of unpaid servitude. That there are near on 400,000 people who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic currently fulfilling their oath without pay is an embarrassment – made all the worse because each day they bring back more an more “unpaid help” in order to avoid inconveniencing anyone. Excuse me? It seems that if you’re going to have a shut down of something the whole point is to make it as inconvenient and painful as possible. And these twatwaffels are sure as blue hell “inconveniencing” the people they expect to pay out of their own pockets for the privilege of coming to work. I blame President Trump. I blame the leadership in both the House and the Senate. I blame every single member of Congress who uses this as an opportunity to grandstand. And I increasingly think I know who the “domestic” enemies are that our oath featured so prominently. 

3. Blood. Blood as a rule doesn’t bother me. I can see people bleeding and not flinch. The rivers could run thick with the stuff and I’m not sure I’d notice… but let me be strapped into a chair at the local doctor’s office and have someone start sucking vials of my own precious life-sustaining fluid from my veins and I’m apt to go all cross-eyed and pasty. I just feel like medical science should do us a favor and step beyond the age of leeches here.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Breaking my word. I swore a strong oath many years ago when paywalls erupted across internet news sites. It would be a cold day in Hell before I started paying for something that was available for free. I could get along just fine with Drudge and Google News and the devil could have the rest. Of course it helped that the Washington Post, political rag though it may be, remained free to those punching in from a government IP address. After years of getting by, though, I’m going to admit here before God, the internet, and everyone that I’ve gone back on my word and conceded that based on my evolving news consumption habits a subscription was inevitable and probably past due. So, now that I’m an oathbreaker anyway, at least I’m free to enjoy the full Sunday edition of The Times of London without running into their ridiculous 2 article a week limit.  In retrospect £5.00 a month doesn’t feel completely usurious even if does still feel just a little bit wrong. And so my transition to a curmudgeonly old Englishman continues apace.

2. Logistics. It turns out one of the big logistics companies (I’m looking at you here UPS) is currently having a challenging time differentiating between 03 and 13 and delivering what seems to be half of what my neighbor is ordering for Christmas to my front door. I’m friendly enough with my neighbors that I make sure theirs ends up in the right place, but it feels like something the average person really shouldn’t need to do if they’re paying for shipping to their home versus paying to have something shipped vaguely into their neighborhood. The internet is full of apologists urging everyone to remember that this is a very busy time of year for shippers and that “hey, mistakes happen.” I’m sure they do, but the same one should rarely happen more than once.  Of course I’m a simple old subject matter expert in distribution logistics, supply, and transportation so what the hell could I possibly know on the subject anyway.

3. Things are worse now. The talking heads of the media and the man on the street both seem equally willing to jump into a discussion that “<insert any topic here> is worse now that its ever been before.” It may be true of an individual issue or two, but overall I just find that the sentiment shows an overall lack of academic rigor and a woeful knowledge of basic history. The Civil War, the Spanish Flu of 1918, pretty much the entire decade of the 1970s, an global total war from 1939-1945, and Members of Congress physically fighting each other on the House floor are all things that happened in the not particularly distant past. Today, what “things are worse now,” mostly seems to focus on the fact that someone may have said something mean to somebody else. In the great sweep of human history asserting now that we’re living now in the worst of all possible times makes you sound like an idiot. 

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.