New phone day…

It’s new iPhone delivery day. I’m fairly sure I’ve owned every “flagship” version of Apple’s now-venerable iPhone. The annual swap out is just kind of part of the tempo of the year now. The days when I felt compelled to get up early and stand in the dark to get one of the first out of the gate are pretty much finished. The era where new phones come with incredible new “must have” features seems to be over.

Still, I’m always just a little bit excited to get a new bit of hardware in my hands. I emphasize the hardware aspect because this morning, as I have for the last five or six upgrades, I spent some time completing a full backup of my old phone… so I could drop it wholesale into the new device. 

If I’m honest, I these upgrades are mostly just a matter of picking up a little bit of speed between clicks and a slightly better camera. I’m using the newest version of apps I’ve been using for years. I don’t know what the cool new apps are – and I mostly don’t care. This mini-computer I’ll carry around in my pocket is almost completely a platform for text messages, keeping to do lists, and taking (fairly) decent pictures of the critters to post on the “big three” social media platforms. Apollo ran on a system far less powerful, but I sheepishly confess I probably don’t use one tenth of what the thing is capable of doing. 

It turns out I’ve turned into that guy… The one who wants the latest toy because it’s the latest toy rather than anything to do with what it’s capable of doing. It feels like after all these years there must be some whiz bang function that would change my life if I only knew it existed. Maybe I should read a review or something. I probably should, but I think we all know what’s really going to happen. I’m going to go right back to using this fancy new phone the way I’ve used all its predecessors for half a decade.

Monday being Monday…

I’ve made a lot of hay on this blog by posting about other people’s fuck ups. It only seems fair that I call myself out with the same level of snark. 

You see, today I was trying to do something that should have been very simple. All I needed to do was spit a few reports out of a database, pretty them up a bit in Excel, and then pass them on. Well, the database in question was throwing errors, the info I needed just wouldn’t download. Fine, I say to myself, if I can’t automatically run a report I’ll just go in and copy/paste the information manually.

That, friends, is where the morning came off the rails. As it turns out, what I did wasn’t so much copying and pasting information into a report as it was overwriting about fifty line items in the database itself with duplicate information. Whoops.

The IT shop says they can (probably) revert all of the fields I jacked up back to their previous versions. I’ve been going about the day just pretending that they’re right… because if they’re not, I have no idea how the hell to go back and manually re-create everything that was there before I took a scythe to the data. 

In conclusion, I’m an idiot and Mondays are stupid. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. RFID. Rolling our RFID at access points was supposed to make getting to work faster and easier while reducing the manpower required to make sure everyone showing up is actually supposed to be there. Over the last two weeks of the roll out period, seven of ten attempts to use the fancy new “no touch” pass system failed to function properly. It didn’t work and ended up being about two times slower than it would have been if I’d have used the regular access lanes. EZ Pass makes it work on the interstate at 70 miles an hour for anyone with a transponder from a dozen different states, but we can’t seem to figure it out in a limited deployment under controled circumstances at five miles per hour. To quote General Beringer in War Games, “After very careful consideration, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.”

2. Human feelings. Its been a year since I made the decision that any further treatment for Winston was really just me staving off the inevitable while making him suffer for my own benefit. I’m just now getting to a point where I can look at pictures or the occasional video of him without becoming a blubbering mess. Feel free to ignore me if my eyes still happen to get a bit misty from time to time. Sigh. Human emotions are dumb and I’d like to have mine removed, please.

3. Finding “no.” I am a professional bureaucrat. Over the better part of two decades I have learned many useful tips and tricks. One of them, most assuredly, is how to use process and procedure to slow progress on an ill advised adventure to a bare crawl. Believe me when I say that I know how to run out the clock with the best of them. Sometimes, though, a project is going to take wing no matter how ill advised or badly developed the concept. It’s such a high priority to someone that it’s going to happen. Once a special someone is committed on that course of action, what I need the master bureaucrats to do is fall their asses in line and manufacture ways to find yes instead of laying down every possible hurdle. I see what you’re doing. I know those tricks, So please, get the fuck out of here with that douchbaggery just this one time.

On having the talent, but lacking the tools…

I haven’t had access to one of our internal networks in over two months. I haven’t been able to print since Friday morning. For the last week, Outlook demands that I enter my pin three times before allowing me to send an email. My workload is spiraling upwards at an exponential rate while I’m being told that I can’t use the resources that have been successfully brought to bear on the exact same issues for the better part of the last decade. 

I am, however, being given as much “assistance” as I can drink from echelons higher than reality who have at long last decided to pay attention now, versus six months ago when their participation might have in some way proven useful. 

Management is always going to be management. There’s no hope to reform it.

But expecting basic office technology to do something that approximates working doesn’t feel like it should be a goddamned bridge too far. It is, of course. It’s a bridge way, way too far. 

It’s during these moments I can absolutely understand some people’s impulse to live life inside a bottle or pop every pill. If anyone needs me I’ll be over here trying not to have a stroke, a nervous breakdown, or possibly both simultaneously. 

Personal growth or something…

I’ve got two months left on my current iPhone Upgrade Program replacement cycle. I could buy my way out of those last two months for about $60 and sign up Friday morning for a spanking new iPhone 11 in hopes of getting it on launch day. It’s tempting… and there was a time it would have been an absolute no brainer. I’d have been one of the first 50 through the door on release day to make sure I got the one I wanted.

The days of me wanting anything badly enough to stand in line in the middle of the night, though, seem to be well over. I still like new and shiny, but I prefer to acquire it during normal business hours. I guess you could call that personal growth or something.

Of course it’s not so much growth that’s going to keep me from walking in to the local Apple Store sometime around the end of October and swapping out the 10 for the 11… and another year of renting the latest iPhone. Even if all they did was make the camera even better, it’s worth the price of admission as far as I’m concerned. Even if it’s not also worth the $60 premium to buy my way into the upgrade on release weekend.

A case against modernizing…

It’s Wednesday. There would usually be a well prepared post showing up here. The time I had allocated for that today was supposed to be immediately after my 12:30 appointment with the dentist. That would have been fine except for the part where what should have been about an hour or 75 minutes getting a crown replaced turned into a three hour and thirty minute marathon in the chair. All because the magic computer that’s supposed to scan your teeth and order up a perfectly sized crown refused to work. They couldn’t give me a temporary crown until the base for the permanent one was scanned, measured, and sent off to the manufacturer.

Twenty years ago they had a pretty efficient way of taking those measurements. They’d take a mold of the base of the tooth and then send the mold off to be processed. It might have taken a few days longer to process, but you could be in and out of the chair without killing half a damned day. All things considered, I’m not sure digitizing what use to be a straightforward and quick process has really gained us anything in this case.

As it is, I’m disgusted by the whole process. Rather than writing a whole diatribe, though, I think I’ll just stick my nose in a book and nurse this sore as hell lower jaw for a bit.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Squeakers. The level of noise in my house is probably more subdued than most. There aren’t kids screeching or multiple adults knocking around. The television or a webcast is usually running in the background just to provide some ambient sound. Maybe that’s why the sudden onset of every imaginable style of squeaky toy for dogs has left me slightly twitchy. Even with that said, I’m prepared to declare that dog toys with squeakers in them are absolutely tools of the devil, conceived in Hell itself and delivered by Amazon. If they can make whistles that only dogs can hear why can’t they rig toys to squeak in the same range? If feels like a wholly undeserved slice of the large and growing pet toy market.

2. Home Depot. Amazon has me trained, I suppose. I put in an order and two days later it ends up on my porch. Home Depot has a lot to learn from that model. I ordered something last Friday and it’s still sitting at the “order received.” A call to their customer service line gave me the stock answer that items usually ship in between 7 and 10 business days. I did, however, arrive home to find the item sitting on my front porch… even while a day later the tracking still says it’s just an “order received.” Hey, I’m happy to have it so I can get it installed over the weekend, but how the actual fuck is that an acceptable model of fulfillment in the internet age?

3. Lighting. I’ve gotten on board with some aspects of an automated home. I love my Nest thermostat. I love my security system – and it’s various environmental sensors that keep an eye out for smoke, carbon monoxide, and unexpected water in the basement. I’ve toe touched into the broader world of automated lighting – mostly using individual programmable switches and timers for various outlets and fixtures. It’s a system that works well enough given my somewhat fanatical adherence to routine. Still, there are some things I’d like to automate that are a little more involved and others I’d like to have a finer level of remote control over. This has led me down a deep and growing rabbit hole of home automation tools and systems… and into a growing awareness that doing what I want to do is going to be a not inexpensive effort. There’s more than a small part of me that wonders if the old mode of “flip switch, light turns on” isn’t really good enough. Of course then there’s the other, larger part that wants to exert detailed control over my environment that’s almost surely going to win the day. In this case, I suspect lighting is just the catalyst for a much larger and deep rooted annoyance.

On the wrong side of truth in the internet age…

The internet may be a cesspit catering to humanity’s worst instincts, but one thing I can’t take away from it is that this interconnected series of tubes and wires had made it very, very difficult to lie. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just that it’s the kind of unintended consequence that I don’t think anyone expected when the internet came along and let us all start downloading songs on Napster.

By way of example, I’ll offer you a short story from 2002, my third and final year as a teacher, when I was already desperate to get out and mostly indifferent to the concept of consequences.

Picture it… St. Mary’s County… 2002… While I was busy lining up another job that I knew was starting in January, several friends were planning their week-long vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The problem was that the week they picked was somewhere towards the tail end of September – when the weather along the Atlantic coast was beautiful, but also when school was most decidedly in session. They wanted to know if I wanted to go along.

Me, being all of 24, did what any rational person would do and concocted a wild story of needing to be away from the classroom for a week. It couldn’t be that I was sick. Being away for a full week would have triggered the need for pesky things like a doctor’s note. I don’t remember what excuse I ginned up in the moment, but it worked well enough that I wasn’t asked for any additional evidence of need and I got to spend a long late summer week boozing with my friends and driving my Jeep on the beach. A few weeks later I was able to tell those long ago bosses that I wasn’t going to come back after Christmas break. I’d also managed to burn off all of the personal days and sick time I was entitled to take that year. So it was a win-win for me at least.

Admittedly that wasn’t my finest professional moment. Today, backed by the power of the internet, social media, and the fact that we all carry around a world-class video production center / photo studio in our pocket, trying to pull off a similar scam would be almost guaranteed career suicide. I can’t imagine a circumstance where me and a bunch of my closest friends and their significant others could spend a week beach bumming around the Outer Banks and managing to avoid being tagged in a picture. Surely I would forget to remove the geo-tag on some innocuous tweet or when posting the great view from somewhere north of Corolla Light to Insta. 

I’m not implying that the internet and our current brave new era of modern technology has in any way made us more honest, but it does feel like it has made us a hell of a lot more likely to get caught living on the wrong side of the truth. 

Missing the mark…

Online marketing has a long and impressive history of trying to sell people things they don’t really need. With their add on items and overwhelming presence on social media, the “things” are hard to miss most of the time. Some people find targeted advertising intrusive, personally I’m a bit more ambivalent about it. That ambivalence comes largely because of how often Amazon and the other online retailers shoot their shot and get it laughingly wrong.

My all time favorite is still the real estate company in New York City that somehow ended up with me in their target demographic for “people who want to live in New York and have $2.5 million to spend on an apartment.” There’s literally no part of that estimation that they got right, though in their defense I’m sure the apartments they were hawking were very nice.

The add that’s giving me the most current belly laughs is brought to you by Amazon, who seems determined to sell me a “Ember Temperature Control Ceramic Mug, Black.” I like tech as much and in some cases more than the next guy, but I have never sat down with a steam cup of coffee and thought, “You know what I need? I need a battery powered, rechargeable ceramic mug that I can control from my phone.” The idea of needing such a thing has simply never occurred to me. I mean I can melt my face off well enough after an hour or two with coffee traveling in one of my $12 Yeti knock off mugs.

I’m all for the forward march of technology, but paying an extra $67.99 for the added “benefit” of the mug having a battery with a one hour run time feels, well, just a little bit like someone’s trying to solve a problem that no one really has.

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.