Damned glitchy algorithm. 

As a rule, I find the Twitter algorithm much more entertaining than the one Facebook uses. Twitter tends to feed me a steady diet of people who talk about dogs, UK politics, the age of fighting sail, archeology, military affairs, book collecting, egirls, and the occasional American politician. It’s more or less balanced based on my interests.

Every couple of months, though, I somehow land in environmentalist crackpot twitter. My most recent territory was getting twisted up with Twitter’s urban planners who were demanding that everyone must live in densely built walkable communities.

I’d like to encourage that group to piss directly off. Not everyone wants or needs to live in dense, urban housing – walkable or otherwise. I’ve spent my life specifically avoiding living under those conditions. I have no idea why it’s so hard for urbanites to understand that not everyone is interested in living asshole to elbow with their neighbor, stacked 47 floors deep, just for the pleasure of having a bakery or bodega a block over. I worked my ass off to make sure there was plenty of space between me and the next guy. In fact, I suspect my current space allocation isn’t nearly enough and the next time around I’ll focus on less house and more land.

I’d be hard pressed to think of a single argument the urban planning true believers on Twitter could make that would lead me in a different direction. That won’t stop that oddball little corner of twitter from being filled by people who think they have the One True Way and the rest of us should just live in accordance with their pronouncements of the higher good.

I obviously need to find a way to get Twitter to stop feeding me this nonsense, as I’d much rather focus on the nonsense that actually interests me instead of rabbit holing me into things just guaranteed to elevate my blood pressure. Damned glitchy algorithm. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The new and improved Instagram. I hated it when it launched. After a few weeks of living with it, I still hate it. Insta went from my most visited social to the least. It was a nice little app to see fun and interesting pictures from friends and people I followed. Now it’s turned into a bad imitation of TikTok that endlessly shows me clips from people/organizations I don’t know or care about and makes what I did find intresting harder to reach. I’m sure there was a very good business case for doing whatever they did, but it makes Instagram just about useless to me.

2. Heat in the summer. The professional media in Baltimore has been falling all over themselves to report on “weather alert days” this week because it’s hot. It also happens to be the back half of July. Here in the Mid-Atlantic that means it’s the height of summer. Put another way, it’s precisely the time of year when one might expect it to be hot and humid in this part of the world. I’m fully onboard with the climate changing – but seeing temperatures in the mid-90s and normal temperatures this time of year are regularly in the low-90s doesn’t feel like a case of breaking news. Now if I wake up tomorrow and it’s 140 degrees in the shade, you’ve got my interest. Otherwise, I’m going to go ahead and treat this as summer doing summer stuff.

3. Accessories. One of the things I hadn’t prepared myself for was the need to outfit this new bathroom of mine with accessories – you know, the various mats, hooks, towels, and so on that might give the whole thing a more finished look. So far all I’ve managed to do is order up a hamper to replace the standard white Rubbermaid version I’ve been toting around since 1998. As for the rest, I have this terrible feeling that at some point it might require me to go out and shop in actual stores to get my eyes and hands on actual fit and finish rather than relying on how things look on the screen. It already feels like a waste of whatever perfectly good Saturday afternoon gets eaten up with it.

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. 

Staring at the tree…

The U.S. Supreme Court generally clears the deck of all pending opinions before going away for the July 4thholiday. Typically, the higher profile the case, the latter the opinion is handed down. That means in the next ten days, we can expect to see new rulings on abortion, religious liberty, the environment, and the Second Amendment.  It’s enough to make a court watcher absolutely salivate with anticipation.

On the other hand, it’s enough to make me seriously consider proclaiming the month of July a social media-free zone. Regardless of how these pending rulings come down, public outcry will be equal parts intense, uninformed, and obnoxious. Responsible analysis will be tough to come by and will immediately be downvoted by partisans. I honestly don’t know if I’ve got it in me to sit around listening to so many people suddenly being engaged and interested. 

Being engaged is good and all… but not just on the big days. That’s just a recipe for people losing their minds as some kind of performative display of giving a shit. It means a whole lot less than paying attention when the sausage is being made. The Supreme Court rightly gets a lot of press, but 99% of law, policy, and regulation never touch their front door. If you’re focused only on those nine judges you’re staring at the tree and missing a whole universe worth of forest to your left and right and in front of and behind you. 

Sigh. Maybe if I just mute all notifications and just spend a month watching cat videos on TikTok the summer won’t be as bad as I’m anticipating. It really does feel like the ideal time to drawing up the digital drawbridge until people settle the fuck down.

Information worth knowing…

For the last few years, I’ve been using Goodreads to manage my personal library. It’s a solid app, filled with reasonable functionality, and absolute scads “social” elements for readers and tie ins with most of the popular social media platforms. For basic cataloging, it filled the bill without much trouble. Still, at its heart, Goodreads is a social media platform and I found it increasingly limited when trying to tweak my ever-increasing pile of books.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly transitioning over to LibraryThing and working through how to catalog and manage the books over the long term. I’ve finally gotten most of the basics covered – or at least got things broken down into the primal chunks. What I’ve read (763), what I have on the to be read pile (657), and what I still want to get my hands on in the future (207). The latter bit is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it will help me be a bit more selective and targeted as I hunt books in the future.

The next step is taking those big chunks and starting to build a little more granularity. Being able to drill down into more detail than just “History, Britain,” will be when I get an itch for something from a specific time period or topic. Getting the details sorted, though, looks like a project that could easily take months or years as I pick at it in free moments. Getting the level of detail I’d like to have will mean moving past the bulk edits of the last few weeks and dealing with smaller subsets and even individual touch points. It’s going to take time, but it feels like I’ve finally stumbled on a proper cataloging tool to really start getting a grip the collection from top to bottom.

Yes, it’s probably overkill, but I have every expectation that this bunch of books will continue to grow over the next 20-30 years. Coming to terms with how to keep it all straight (and avoid buying duplicates) feels like a worthwhile endeavor. Plus, if I hadn’t made the transition, I wouldn’t know that my stack of books is now just slightly shorter than the Taj Mahal. That’s information worth knowing. 

A bit too high…

I’ll be the first to admit that my Instagram feed is not generally what most people would consider “wholesome.” It’s thick with porn stars, egirls, and instathots. Thankfully I don’t subscribe to that particularly American brand of puritanism that shrieks and clutches its pearls at even the mention of the human body. 

Occasionally, though, some other things break through the Insta-clutter. A couple of nights ago I was scrolling through my feed and I landed on a photo of row after row of books. It was a real thing of beauty – formal, but comfortable; well loved, but equally well maintained. 

“I want something like that when I build a house,” I mumbled to myself before filing it away for reference should the occasion ever present itself to build my own book room from the foundation up. 

Upon closer inspection, of course I want something like that. The picture that so fascinated me was of the royal library in the Palace of Versailles. 

It’s good to be ambitious. Goals beyond food, shelter, and procreation are what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. I fear, however, in this case I may have set my sights just a bit too high. 

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.

The next long weekend…

I started the latest in my ongoing series of very long weekends at 4:00 this afternoon. My out of office message is set, my laptop is packed away, and I won’t be sparing another thought about COVID, or briefings for industry, or taskers for the next five days. It’s a decidedly good feeling. 

I have no real plans to speak of. I’m sure there will be a bit of junking and book hunting in the mix, but for tonight there’s nothing that even passes for a plan. I’ll be going as close as I ever do to playing it by ear. I’m not sure my version would pass as anyone else’s idea of spontaneity, but I’m ok with it.

I usually try to keep the blog schedule moving along without interruption during these vacation days, but as always, for the next few days I’m reserving the right not to sit down at the computer unless I’m really feeling a strong bit of motivation. I really have no idea whether I’ll be posting for the rest of the week or not. It’s a total coin toss.

Not to worry, of course. Even if I’m quiet here for a few days, there’s not much chance at all of me shutting up on Facebook or Twitter, so you can always treat yourself to a micro-rant elsewhere on your preferred social media platform.

Get a helmet…

This morning I stumbled across a thread on Twitter wherein the poster bemoans their seeming inability to work, pay bills on time, eat three times a day, perform basic personal hygiene, clean their place, and take care of the lawn. “How does anyone get it all done,” they rage into the electronic void.

By the time I saw it, the post had garnered 26,000 likes and hundreds of replies of “Same girl” or “Uh, this is the world capitalism gave us.” Other replies were some variation of “I just live in filth,” “Nobody does that,” “They’re rich and hire help,” or “They have a significant other who does it.”

I’m sorry, but that whole line of logic sounds like raging bullshit to me. Not all of those things are the top priority on every day – sometimes the house is a little dusty or I pull a meal out of the freezer instead of making a full dinner. But taken on average doing all the things is pretty much just being a responsible adult.

I’m sure someone will come screaming into the comments that my cis het white male conforming neuro-normative privilege is showing, but all I really read in that thread was a laundry list of excuses. There’s no staff here at Fortress Jeff. There’s no domestic help or significant other picking up the slack for whatever basic household task I don’t handle. Sure, I farm out some of the more specialized tasks (like fixing the well and cleaning the gutters), but I’m a one man show keeping up on the day-to-day essentials.

If anything, I suppose it’s my non-religious Protestant work ethic is showing – or maybe I just don’t expect to have others manage all my basic life functions for me. Then again, it could be a matter of trying not to take so many cues about how your life should look from Instagram and spend that time taking a damned shower or folding some laundry.

Life’s tough, kids. Get a helmet.

Where no one wants to live…

For a while on Sunday afternoon my Twitter feed was near filled with what I’ll generally call serious lefty climate people. Look, I’m there. Climate change is a real thing. It’s a topic worthy of serious discussion by serious people. I’m not in any way sure that’s what was happening on twitter. The one theme I kept seeing over and over was the call to “reimagine” cities.

That’s fine, I suppose. Cities have been reimagining and rebuilding themselves for as long as there have been cities. I’m sure in 3428 BCE some Sumerian urban planner in Ur was convinced there was a better way to build a ziggurat. 

The trend of growing urban populations increasing while rural populations decline is not in any way a new feature in this country. It’s been happening since nearly the beginning as people left the farm for new job opportunities in the city created during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. There’s no reason to think that trend will stop as we move forward, so our cities should absolutely plan for dealing with larger populations in the future.

What I always struggle with in these discussions is these “thought leaders” on social media never seem to take into account is the number of people who have never, do not currently, or never will have any desire to live in a densely urbanized bicyclist and pedestrian paradise. I just don’t care how many bus routes you have or how wonderful the subway is, trading my patch of land with its flora and fauna for 600 square feet on the 87th floor just sounds awful.

Good luck with it, though. The more people you convince to be warehoused in towers of steel, concrete, and glass, the more green space I’ll have out here “where no one wants to live.” You might want to talk about nature, but I value seeing it from my back porch. We’re not the same.