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. 

Style versus substance…

I’ll probably live to regret this, but WordPress asked me today if I wanted to switch over to a “new and improved” editor. I’m firmly in the camp of if something is advertised as new or improved it’s practically guaranteed to be worse than whatever it’s replacing. 

I’m going to try keeping an open mind about this thing – although it’s currently very tempting to dismiss it since I can’t figure out how the hell do do things that took two clicks using the old editor. It’s probably just a learning curve kind of thing, but writing is hard enough without needing to spend a lot of time and effort figuring out how to make things look right too. 

That’s probably a lot much to ask from the internet, of course… especially considering the layout this blog hasn’t changed in any meaningful way since the day I first set it up. I’m a guy who’s usually more concerned with content over looks in all things and if my own layout happens to be a little long in the tooth, I suppose that’s a little telling. 

It’s probably a good thing that I’m trying to get this sorted during Thanksgiving week. It’ll give me at least four or five days to figure out what the hell is going on before anyone starts paying attention again.

It’s pointy sticks for WordPress…

It’s come to my attention over the last several days that the bit of technology that connects my WordPress account to Facebook to provide a helpful little notification that there’s something new to read seems to be not working as it should do.

Having been in at the creation of the internet, spending my formative technological years in newsgroups and chat rooms before moving on to more modern offerings like Classmates, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. I only mention it to establish my credibility as one who is steeped well in the art of screaming into the online void. The fact that nothing happens to be screaming back at any particular moment isn’t particularly surprising. The void is a big place after all. However, that little notice that “Hey, Jeff published something new” is something I looked forward to five nights a week.

The beauty of the basic WordPress account is that it works just about flawlessly 999 days out of 1000. There’s not that much administrative work to keep up with unless you have a deep desire to figure out what all the switches and buttons do. Mostly it just sits there and runs itself based on whatever selections you made when first setting up the account. I’ve stayed firmly rooted to this platform because it has required so little in the way of upkeep over the years.

There are, of course, there’s the odd day when something behaves oddly and you have to climb down into the engine compartment and start poking things with pointy sticks until it starts working again. That’s what it’ll feel like anyway, because I’ve very clearly lost touch with how anything deeper than the surface layer of technology works.

Worse than hot takes…

I was thrilled today to see much of the North Korea hot takes that filled my newsfeed over the last few days giving way to the funny animal posts and random memes that I’ve come to rely on social media to deliver.

Unfortunately, my feed was equally crammed with a third category of post that I could have really done without. Instead of making me laugh or teaching me something new, apparently the internet decided that today I needed to learn about every dog available for adoption between New Jersey and central Virginia. Believe me when I say it was 100% information I’d have been happy doing without.

On a typical day I wander through life with a generic sense of wanting all the animals. When the internet uses its communicative powers to give each of those animals form and substance, though, all rational arguments like, vet bills, food, training, and not turning into an animal hoarder flow directly out the window.

So it turns out I’m going to need a break from the internet because not because the news of the day is so upsetting, but because animals are just so damned amazing and I want to bring all of them home.

The virtue of Prime…

After getting my notice of another Amazon Prime subscription price increase, I’m realizing that I either need to start using it for more than watching 10 episodes of The Grand Tour a year or get rid of it. I signed up way back when Prime’s major benefit was two day shipping on books. Although it offers many more features now, I find I’m barely using it for any of them. With many of items I’ve bought from Amazon recently not making the 2-day shipping window and/or being damaged to some degree in packing or transit, it’s starting to feel like less of a bargain overall – especially when Amazon has opted to push it over the $100 price point.

I’m well aware that arguing over the value of $21 per year increase is patently ridiculous on its face, but there’s just something about that three-digit bill that really sets me wondering just what the hell I’m paying for and if it’s actually worth it. In all likelihood I’ll just go along letting apathy and inertia carry it along, but don’t let that in any way be confused with my willingness to bitch and complain every year when that $120 bill shows up in my list of financial transactions… because I still want my dented and damaged crap showing up in two (or three or four) days.

I supposed that’s what Amazon has been counting on all along.