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Flattery will get you google rank

So every couple days or so I get a new comment on the blarg (most of them on this one article) that sounds like this:

You are really great
Submitted by Essay Help (not verified) on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 11:15pm.

You are really great dude.that's a really cool idea. i may use that in my own filing system.

Man v. Corporation

So for the past two months, Celeste and I have incurred massive phone bills with At&t. After the first big one, I accepted that oops, yup, we talk more than our rate plan will allow. I called At&t up, and the nice man there happily sold me a larger rate plan for more money. I asked him, "So, when does this go into effect? this month? (it was january 19th) Like, we'll have more minutes now?" He said "Yes sir."

So, it's February 6th, and I've got another bill from At&t for $360 bucks. I called them up hoping this was a billing mistake, but of course... Corporations never make billing mistakes. When the computer's all you've got, what the computer says is the word of god.

I tried to explain my conversation with At&t call center Monkey1 to At&t Monkey2 and then Monkey2's supervisor. Both of them checked with 'the word of god', and there was no record of Monkey1's words.
(in their defense, they were willing to halve the overage charges.)

Here's the thing.. (sorry it took me so long to get here) Throughout this entire conversation, I felt completely powerless. At&t holds all the cards. I signed their contract, so I can't take my business elsewhere, if they wrong me, I've got more or less no recourse. This power imbalance translated all the way down to Monkey2, who acted like I should feel lucky that she was willing to work with me as much as they have, and that she CAN transfer me to her manager, but then the huge favor she's doing for me could be taken away because I'm making waves.

Yes, it's my own damned fault. I sold my soul to Apple and by extension to At&t. I sold what little power I would have had over their actions for a cheaper iPhone. Really though, how much power are we talking about here? Enough to change the motivations of Monkey2? Probably not.

(batty will hate this but:)

No, a foam hat won't save you.

I've been following the story of Rebecca Allen's death in Fort Collins last Tuesday, and I went to her funeral Friday, (cyclists city wide showed up to show support).

I've been reading the local press about it, and this is as good an example as any:
http://www.coloradoan.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080730/UPDATES01/...

In every article I've seen, this, or some variation of this concept has been uttered:

Allen was taken to the hospital where she died from her injuries. Garvey suffered serious injuries, but was released from the hospital the same day. Both were wearing bike helmets.

A helmet? She was hit by a CAR! In the equation of bike v. car, a helmet is little more than a luck bonus. Yeah, there are lots of tales of people getting their heads run over and the helmet miraculously takes the hit and squirts their noggins out onto the street. But seriously, day to day, what do you think that inch of foam is going to do for you?

So, why do they bring it up? Because people assume a cyclist without a foam hat is an irresponsible idiot who somehow deserves to die. Because people don't want to talk about how CARS KILL PEOPLE. Being on the bike didn't kill Rebecca. A car killed Rebecca. (yes, the dumbass kid behind the wheel killed Rebecca, but tell me, would that have happened if he were out riding a bike drunk instead?)

Consider this:

4,749 pedestrians were reported to have been killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2003. These deaths accounted for 11 percent of the 42,643 motor vehicle deaths nationwide that year. An estimated 70,000 pedestrians were injured or killed in motor vehicle collisions, which represents 2 percent of the 2.9 million total persons injured in traffic crashes
(http://www.walkinginfo.org/pedsafe/crashstats.cfm: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts 2003, Washington, DC, 2004)

We're worried about deaths in Iraq? We lost more people in one year just walking down the street than the entire war so far!

We've built our entire society around the automobile; around the idea that accelerating 2 tons of steel to human killing speeds through the places we live and work is acceptable. It's quite literally killing us.

For a better article about Allen (yup, mentions helmets..) read this one:
http://media.www.collegian.com/media/storage/paper864/news/2008/07/30/Ne...

Get out on your bike this week. Take the lane. Let a car or two know you're there.

Cellular Neutrality

My friends and I were recently chatting about cellular service providers. AT&T seems like it's going to be in control of the next generation of iPhone and we were comparing their plans. The scary thing we find is the nasty tendency to nickel and dime you for all kinds of services that, when you boil them down, are nothing but bits over a wire.

Distrusting Experts...

Here is a nice little piece about when and why to distrust expert opinion.

REPOST: Linux is a toy.

This is one of the longer posts I've made regarding Linux's viability as a Windows replacement. I've edited it a bit from the original for things that have changed since then:

Linux is a toy. A powerful toy. An-almost-infinitely-customizable toy. But a toy nonetheless. I say this because the people who use it do so because they enjoy fiddling around with config files. Even if they actually like using it--and of course they do--using it requires one to fiddle with config files in ways that one would only know how to do if he enjoyed learning about such things. I'm sorry, but that is a tiny subset of the computer-using public. Most people don't want to fiddle with things to get them to work or use weird, off-brand knockoff software developed by groups of people who do it as a hobby. It is a toy.

Invariably, this comment upsets a lot of people and there's the obligatory "It runs the internet!" and "dont be rediculous i use it for my business!" (sic) replies. But none of that means it's not a toy. OpenOffice or Crossover Office do not a real computer--as most people actually use them--make. Most businesses do more than type and make spreadsheets.

Here is a quick list of software my parents' company, for whom I do IT from time to time, uses. These are industry-standard applications:

PowerClaim [powerclaim.com]

Xactimate [exactimate.com]

Internet Explorer (for dealing with the head office)

Without these, their business does not run.

REPOST: On newbies' ability to set up Linux

Another repost. I have intimated on this site before my thoughts on Linux, and have always wanted to write a monster post that details them more thoroughly, but the time doesn't come. Here is a slightly-edited-for-readability post from elsewhere on non-computer-savvy people's ability to set up and use Ubuntu Linux:

I build my own PCs. I think that's falling-off-a-log easy. But try to get a noob friend of yours into it. No really, try. They'll come up with the goofiest, craziest, hardest questions you've ever heard. I understand on a conceptual, top-down level what is going on when I'm putting a system together and getting drivers, etc. I've been doing it long enough that when I build a new one, it's a simple matter of just learning the changes since last time I did it. Usually I already know about them because I'm a geek and keep up on such things for fun. But, for example, the change from 20-pin to 24-pin ATX connectors caught me completely by surprise and required another trip to the store to get an adapter. It still happens. I know to look up beep codes. I know what to do if it doesn't start up. When all is said and done, I forget these little problems because they are not memorable--they are not salient events because I calmly and quickly solved them. This is not the case to a person who doesn't have that comparatively vast storehouse of latent knowledge.

For someone just starting out, though, that "24-pin ATX connector" confusion happens with every single step of the process. What seems simple to us only seems that way because we've got a massive backlog of understanding that we just take for granted. We only need to make adjustments to it.

REPOST: On the work/time dichotomy

Lately I have been bemoaning the fact that I don't have time to blog as much as I'd like. But then I realized that I actually write a lot, but they are on forums, and are usually only seen on that site by a few people. I am toying with the idea of reposting the longer ones here. Here is the first, which was in response to someone complaining about the hours they worked at their software dev job. Begin:

I'm an academic, and the single biggest reason is that I'm a workaholic and if the place didn't almost shut down for 4 months of the year, I'd work myself to an early grave. As it is now, though, I work my ass off 8 months of the year, and 4 months of the year I'm blessed and cursed to be able to get almost nothing done (well, nothing that requires the organization). It's been very good for my health and mental well-being, if not necessarily for my wallet.

Over the last summer break, I spent about a week staying with my friends who work at a major IT company as developers. I saw their lives, and was envious. They make a lot more money, they come home earlier, and it is virtually impossible for them to work at home, so they don't. "Damn," I thought, "I really did pick the wrong career." But then I noticed something: I was staying at their house in a different country from where I live for a week, and that was just one week out of about 7 or 8 in a row that I didn't have to report to work. I was still getting some things done on the laptop, but that had much more to do with my workaholic nature than necessity. "Damn," I thought, "maybe I picked the right career after all."

The point I'm trying to make is that you are ultimately in control of your time. You are. Really. It's your time. Your life. If you feel that you are losing it to a company, and the money isn't worth it, you need to change gears. It's not their fault. It's your fault for doing it.

Hackers are an Insignificant Minority

Most people don't care that the iPhone is closed. They don't even know what the difference between open and closed is. And they most certainly don't care.

The iPhone is a phone. It was designed to address problems with phones. The problems it tried to address mostly had to do with the fact that cellphones are almost unusable. For example, I have no idea how to use most of the features on mine, and I'm a geek. It doesn't bother me.

If you can't open it, you don't own it... Apple closed it.

Apple finally cracked down on iphone hackers. So today's the day I feel justified in not buying one yet. They've released a fantastically powerful tool and hobbled it to be nothing more than a shiny toy.

As consumers we need to demand access to the software of systems we buy. Software being in the hands of everyone to modify is what gives it great power.

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