Category Archives: Technology

Social Media Avatars

*At the risk of being shot, this is tongue-in-cheek.

I woke up this morning to a flood of avatars on Facebook.

Some are great, some are humorous, some are realistic. Some, however, are as far from reality as an alligator playing banjo on Mars.

As someone who has done a lot of photoshop or alternate pictures for years, I knew the day would arrive when Facebook would drop a bomb of avatars to its site. It was inevitable.

We’ve endured the misuse of softening filters for a couple of years. They have their place. Mostly, though, they obscure reality. It can cause grief when people use them and don’t realize they look a bit ‘off’ when using them. We have to pretend their baby isn’t hideous, so to speak, even as we wonder whether they’ll win the Halloween costume contest without the use of a mask.

Maybe I’m being judgmental. I love pictures – and I’ll take them any way I can get them.

The avatar fad that just exploded onto Facebook is a good thing overall. Anything that distracts people with a bit of fun or interest can’t be a bad thing.

It’s just that we all collectively share the same observations when people aren’t being realistic. If my avatar isn’t balding or fails to have a gut, it’s not realistic. It’s true I could simply use a Danny Devito gif to represent me, but that leaves him without a good one to use for himself.

Song: Do You Want To Date My Avatar?

The above song is old by modern standards. It did, however, predict the rise of avatars.

Because I knew she’d like it, I made a png cutout of her avatar so that it would include a bulldog, a symbol that best represents what she’s all about.

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To be an idiot, I made a George Clooney png avatar for myself. When people compare me to others, George Clooney is somewhere around the 5,000,000,000 mark on the list of my possible doppelgangers.

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Now that I’ve contradicted myself, I have to go make a mass of crazy avatars and pictures for other people. Some will challenge their notions of reality.

They Call me Tater Equis

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I didn’t think it was possible there will still websites requiring names containing 3 or more letters in violation of federal law. Especially those that are critical to maintaining both public health and patient privacy. In response, I used “XXX” as my name, while technically committing a crime by affirming my identity with it. And a porn moniker, at that.

Anyone who has seen me knows that “X” should literally be synonymous with anonymous, and not merely for a reason eponymous. (I’m proud of that sentence.)

To make matters worse, I had to choose an answer that was wrong from my credit report, one which included a name I’ve never used: Equis. For those who don’t read or speak Spanish, “Equis” is how you would spell the letter “X” if you were drinking a bottle of Dos Equis beer.

I felt a little like Ron White during his telling of “They call me tater salad.”

It’s horribly amusing that while they wouldn’t accept the simplest name possible (X, one letter), they somehow have the oral Spanish translation (“Equis”) of a name I’ve never written on anything more official than spray-painted graffiti walls. I hope they never see the art piece I did. I titled it, “Orange Paintball President.” If they have, I’ll never be able to confirm my identity again.

No doubt XXX will now magically appear on a secret government list and permanent record, one I will have to recall for no apparent reason, to confirm my identity by incorrectly confirming it.

The website is huge, doing both government and private business for millions. Heck, even the IRS named me NFN X when I had just one name, and that was years ago. “NFN” means “No First Name,” at least for the IRS. They decided that using “Arkansas Idiot” would be an obvious signal that they thought I’d lost my mind. For a while, my Arkansas state driver’s license said my legal name was “Mr. X,” because our state had barely managed to figure out that computers had to be plugged in to function.

When I got a new birth certificate, I’m inclined to think that the director of the Department of Health was tempted to stamp “Accident Report” across the top of my new Birth Certificate.

I guess this virus really did take us back several decades. I did waste several minutes attempting to navigate the website’s ‘Help,’ section. It was amusingly hidden behind an icon of a laughing troll – never a good sign. I’ll get a series of emails designed to both demoralize and belittle me, I’m sure.

I guess I deserve this.

The “X” is where you’re supposed to drop the bomb. And maps always have an “X” to show “You are here.”

I’m here.

But now I’m not sure I have a legal name.

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P.S. By the time I posted this, I had already received three emails from the website, two of them completely contradicting each other and the other telling me it didn’t recognize my email as being from the planet Earth.

My Apologies For The Troll(s)

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Friends:

Please accept my apology, one offered to all those who may have seen some particularly hateful commentary.

Someone I know is struggling with alcoholism and mental issues. The prognosis is such that it’s not going to improve. The truth is that I’m going to simply have to tolerate it until he’s no longer able to behave inappropriately. On the one hand, what he’s doing is completely objectionable; on the other, he’s often not in charge of his own faculties, so it’s difficult to hold him accountable like I would a normal person. While what he’s doing is a crime, I ask that you ignore anything bizarre that might appear in the comments for a short time. I’ll clear, delete, and block all the offending content as soon as it’s brought to my attention. I can block by email, name, and IP; as you know, however, these are not sufficient to thwart someone who actively seeks to inflict distress or inconvenience on another person.

If you see or hear anything crazy, threatening, or angry, please let me know. (Not from me – from him. You can ignore my stupidity and treat it as normal day-to-day craziness.)

I’m not posting this to draw sympathy, prayers, or well-wishes.

It’s literally to let you know that you might see some startling things across my blog and social media. I’ll correct them as soon as they appear. I’ve spent 50+ years adjusting to the insanity of anger and addiction; a little bit more probably won’t ruin the remnants of my own sanity. I have to admit the latest round of hatred and bile thrown at me was a bit over-the-top.

Thanks, X
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Two-Factor Authentication For Everyone

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If you don’t have two-factor authentication (2FA) turned on for social media (much less your financial accounts and email), I hope elves visit you in the night and pluck your nose hairs with tweezers. If you don’t know what 2FA is and you’re using the internet for anything, you’re probably not going to like me telling you that you’re almost certainly giving away all your entire identity. 2FA isn’t perfect – but it is the minimum standard for anything you value.

The Roundabout Proposition

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“No matter how significantly a change might improve our lives, there will always be a section of our population who will immediately dislike it; their dislike is immune to enlightenment.” – X

Roundabouts are traffic control devices used to replace traditional intersections. Chances are, you’ve driven through one, and probably at 5 mph the first time you used one. All of us know at least one person whose hatred of roundabouts is so insurmountable that it borders on the comical.

Roundabouts, like so many other developments, tend to be controversial during implementation due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is user uncertainty. As people, we are generally dense and tend to reluctantly accept change.

Many drivers are unable to overcome their initial dissonance regarding roundabouts.

The evidence is clear, however: roundabouts drastically reduce the frequency of accidents and more importantly, have a huge impact on the severity of the accidents which do occur. Two factors have a disproportionate effect: speed and angle of impact with other drivers. One benefit of roundabouts is they also allow for considerably more traffic flow than a traditional stop-and-go system.

Why is this a social and political issue?

No matter how you present the strikingly clear benefits of roundabouts vs. traditional intersections, there will always be one person (or group of them) in the back of the room or in comment sections spouting off such generalizations as, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or, “These things are dangerous.” People love being told that the old way was probably best. After all, they survived, so why can’t everyone else? Showing them that roundabouts will prevent crashes, save lives, and increase traffic flow will only make them scowl harder and grunt more loudly.

You’re can’t argue them out of a position they weren’t argued into. You’ll probably try, though, because you sometimes are a bonehead, just as I am. We all fool ourselves into thinking facts will overcome stubbornness.

Right now, someone is reading this and becoming very angry. That’s how you know that cognitive dissonance works: it blinds you to contradiction and inevitably evokes an emotional response to new or challenging information.

This is part of the reason that expertise is so often met with skepticism and irritation. The folksy anecdotal experiences of the people who don’t want to learn anything new will often derail any attempt to make things better.

Additionally, because many of these people aren’t familiar with or engaged in the day-to-day business of government or society, they don’t understand or appreciate the massive machinery of moving parts and people that function to keep our society whirling. For many, the solutions seem obvious and simple. It’s easy to forget that if a simple solution were available, we would have adopted it already. I’ve learned to beware all opinion which preaches ‘simplicity’ in their solutions. Roundabouts are just another one of those things which makes our lives better; they require a little learning and adjustment, though.

Often, we all lose an opportunity to do things differently because the people who won’t listen to reason will have a disproportionate effect on our ability to implement change. Additionally, while a smaller portion of our society is actively engaged with issues and addressing them as part of their daily lives, most people sit on the sidelines and only begin to shout when something interrupts their focus, or a fringe voice clamors for action.

And so, expertise and better ways to live are drowned out.

It’s important that you understand that I’m not saying that just because you dislike roundabouts that you also tend to automatically resist potential social change. I’m simply using the subject as a comparative example most people can relate to. My guess is, however, that many will jump to this erroneous conclusion precisely because cognitive dissonance triggers an emotional reaction in most people, one which disarms their ability to distinguish nuance and subtlety. I am saying, however, that many who dislike roundabouts simply won’t listen to reason in their regard.

The Roundabout Rule refers to the mentality wherein no amount of rational or reasoned explanation will change a person’s mind. The person afflicted has a fixed opinion and data will not sway him or her. Additionally, it’s likely he or she will be unable to distinguish fact from opinion or weigh the overall impact to society as a group. It is the antithesis to, “My opinion changes with new information,” which is the foundation of education and maturity.

I think most people will read this and focus exclusively on the issue of roundabouts, rather than the underlying premise of the rejection of new ideas. This probability fits nicely with the premise.

In a roundabout way, of course.

We Are Social Media

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Many of these words could be wrong. I wrote them after seeing a couple of friends make impassioned and yet illogical claims regarding social media. I’m not writing these words to sway opinion. I’m writing them to exorcize them out of my head. I should take more time to get the ideas ‘just right.’ But I’m not going to. In part, this is because it’s exactly the way social media works best when done correctly. Perfection and the pursuit of it is one aspect of social media that we all find a bit suspicious. It’s okay to make errors. We do it all day every day whether we have social media to amplify it.

If you’re asking if social media is a good thing or bad thing, the answer is “Yes.” Regardless of merit, we tend to self-destruct using every other thing in our lives. We carry the dichotomy inside us. Because social media is primarily on newer devices, it seems as if the concerns inherent in it are new. They’re not. They’re simply disguised under shiny new packages under the same old calloused fingers and jaundiced minds.

It’s weird to me that people talk about deleting their social media. Per Nike, “Just Do It.” Talking about it is a symptom that you’re exactly the person who is using the platform in a way that isn’t healthy. If you’re not sure, delete it for a bit. It’ll be there when you want it to be, no matter how long your absence. Much in the same way that it’s impossible to go to the gym without talking about it, many people can’t seem to simply exercise a choice without confusing their reasons for doing so. If you find yourself looking up from your interactions and finding unhappiness, do something to change it. Just as some have an aversion to alcohol, some people might not be hard-wired to engage the complexity of unlimited interaction.

Being evangelical about your decision sounds a little weird to the rest of us, much in the same way as someone shouting about the dangers of drinking. It’s possible to drink responsibly and enjoy life a little more. The same is true of social media. Your truth might be that you can’t even sip from the bottle without your life spiraling. It’s not our truth and certainly not universal.

I’m surprised that everyone doesn’t use social media to connect to people they might not ever meet, confederates in ideas or causes you probably won’t find in your real life. Many people, like me, find it to be a gateway to people that we’d love to surround us if such a thing were within our grasp.

I’ve yet to personally know anyone who has deleted Facebook who hasn’t used another platform to quench their voyeurism. I know people who c-l-a-i-m it’s not true but a little forensic sleuthing proves otherwise. For those who know me well, you also know that this isn’t an exaggeration. I’ve done my homework. Of all those who claim they’ve shut it all down, none have really done so. They’ve simply substituted one brand for another. It’s not the app or platform specifically that is your problem. In a roundabout way, it’s your addiction to your device and the method you choose to interact with what you see and hear when using it.

You might look at social media and see danger. It’s true, it can be. So can answering the phone, talking to strangers, or walking unknown streets after dark. I see the breadth of possibility, of creation, of ideas. It’s a portable way to interact with every single person on the planet, if you choose to do so.

So many of our digital systems have social media embedded inside them, whether it is a forum, comment section, or another method of interaction. The idea of social media as a separate entity is misguided. It cannot be measured separately from the rest of our human interactions, even if you remove all the devices.

Social media is one of our biggest creations precisely because of its ubiquity and reach. It both delights and angers us – just like every human interaction out in the real world. Some of us can’t take a drink without downing the entire bottle. Some can’t make a wager without losing their houses. Other people can’t see information they disagree with without being personally accused. All of our methods of communication contain a method of destruction if we are not in control of ourselves.

Looking back into history, it’s safe to say that all major paradigm shifts in society caused the same learning curve for all of us. These include mass-produced newspapers, radio, TV, and movies. Technology is the same challenge packaged in a different container. Because I grew up in a very rural county, I lived in houses without telephones and in houses with party lines. Among my ancestors were many who preached that the telephone was going to destroy civilization and that it would allow people to stop visiting their family and friends. They were certain that front porches and living room parlors would be empty. Instead, the telephone opened up an entirely new way to stay closer than ever to those who matter. Some of those same ancestors also remembered the same fears with cars. They’d believed that no would slow down long enough to appreciate life if they ride in a car.

Some of incorrectly think it’s a new challenge. It’s not. We are the challenge, precisely because we as humans are using the biggest communication system in the world in a way that doesn’t empower us.

“I don’t watch TV,” people used to say.

“I don’t use social media,” people now say.

Yes, you do. And even if you don’t, you’re on it.

Welcome to the world you can’t reject.

Use it as you see fit or choose not to use it. As for whether social media is a good or bad thing, the answer is definitely “yes.”

Just like us. Just like our choices.

Love, X
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Even If You Leave, You’re Not Going Anywhere

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I know it’s fashionable to say, “I’m leaving Facebook,” especially for the seemingly never-ending data scandals.

But for those who don’t know, Facebook (and most other media companies) can and will follow you across your life, even if you’ve never had a social media account of any kind. I’ve written so much about the unicorn of privacy that I find it impossible to believe that someone thinks they have privacy if they are using electronic devices of any kind.

If you close your social media accounts, it will have almost no effect on the quantity and quality of information collected about you. Your behavior and history are unflinching indicators of everything about your life. Even non-electronic information is being used, so unless you opt for a life in a shadowy cave, there’s no escape from being included in the heap of other consumers.

Yes, you might be leaving Facebook, but it’s not leaving you. And neither are any of the other companies watching you. (FB and Google directly control about 70% of the entire digital ad market.) Whoever you use for your internet is allowed to sell your history.

You might as well set fire to your own underpants.

We’ll film it and upload your fire dance to social media for you, though.

Amazon will show you an ad for burn cream or new underwear to let you know they’re interested in your well-being and business.

No Cashier For You

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“1) Will a cashier always be available at the local Neighborhood Markets?” The answer is “No,” if Walmart has its way.

By the way, this hasn’t been answered by any of the dozens of emails, tweets, or direct messages I’ve exchanged in the last few weeks. Luckily, the corporation is staffed by human beings, ones who exist in the real world – and who share our misgivings about achieving cost reduction by eliminating jobs (and people) at the expense of customer convenience. Despite my complaint regarding being coerced into using self-checkout, even for large volume grocery shopping, the bigger shadow will come from passive scanning technologies which are designed to eliminate almost all interaction between shoppers and employees.

To all those with physical limitations or who dislike being required to be their own cashiers for one of the largest corporations in the world, please accept my apologies. Walmart will imply that their “Store Pickup” system will address these concerns. They won’t, at least not in the immediate future. From listening to people I know who’ve tried the order ahead and “Store Pickup” system, they love the idea of it but have universal frustrations with the implementation. Most of the hiccups are from, you guessed it, human error and insufficient staffing to provide a worry-free grocery experience. Warm ice cream? Shorter expiration dates on your dairy? Less appealing merchandise compared to what you might choose? Scheduling and logistic issues? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

If you have a disability or limitation, I can only recommend that you insist that all retailers accommodate you. If you resent being less valued as a customer, I can only advise that you seek a retailer which honors your request.

Most of us will gladly embrace self-checkout for some situations. We’ll even use the ‘scan as you go’ apps in most cases. Equally true, though, is that we’re not going to accept a multi-billion dollar corporation’s insistence that we do a job better performed by an employee of its organization, a job for which we are already being charged. There are times when we want a cashier, especially when we’ve accumulated a few dozen items in our shopping carts.

As for the customer service reporting system, Walmart’s is broken. As it turns out, it is deliberately designed to function that way. In the last few weeks, I’ve exchanged hundreds of emails, direct messages and fruitless tweets and posts. None of them came from an identifiable person. With each promise of contact, I’d be sent back to the starting point of the broken carousel. I could almost hear the crackle of laughter behind some of the redirects. Walmart insulates itself from marketing glitches by pushing everything back out to the local branches, as if the store manager is the one wanting to reduce his or her staff. In a moment of candor, I had a store manager tell me directly that he/she blamed all of it on corporate’s sole focus on cost, even though the metrics of customer satisfaction skew away from cost as being the sole factor.

Officially, no one at Walmart had the courtesy or professionalism to answer any of my questions, even when I reduced it to the one question which starts this post. Their failure to answer me is a testament to their proven ability to ignore most pushback and to their own belief that they are too large to fail. I can’t blame them, not really. Arrogance of that magnitude is almost inescapable when scaled to their size.

One thing I found out for certain is that Walmart is slowly transitioning to self-kiosks while simultaneously avoiding any blanket statements about their future. A bigger part of their vision involves using scanning technology or customer-driven input, which either passively tracks what we pick up at every point in the store or requires our input to scan or tally the selected merchandise. We are the proverbial frog in the slowly heating pot of water and we won’t realize that we can’t turn back until we’re too boiled to hop out. Walmart is counting on our complacency to reach a point of no return.

Between initiatives like Project Kepler and Code Eight, Walmart is investing heavily in technology which reduces labor by removing Walmart employees from the process as much as possible. For cost reductions, it’s smart. For human relations, it is less than ideal.

If you don’t want to use a self-checkout kiosk, the best option is to politely say “No.” If you’re told something you don’t like, try to remember that employees are either badly trained, which is management’s fault, or they are only parroting the words and procedures given to them, which is also management’s fault. They are still people first and employees second. This is ironic when you stop to consider that these very people are the ones Walmart is eliminating to save you money. Truth be told, most managers don’t have any real ability to control these types of issues.

It is a certainty that many retailers will follow suit and use technology to push our shopping habits in a new direction. As I’ve said all along, such technology holds a place in our future but it shouldn’t be forced upon us for all situations.

I started all this weeks ago by saying that Walmart and its smaller food markets in particular is a business model I very much want to embrace. I love technology and welcome both self-checkout kiosks and “as you go” systems. I resent the idea, though, that I am becoming an involuntary employee of the organization I’m rewarding with my business. For those who are older or with physical issues, I am especially concerned.

Locally, most of us will have choices through smaller grocery stores and chains. They’ll face the same price pressures, though, at some point.

I realize that this isn’t the most well-written post but perfect is the enemy of the good. If a billion dollar company can wing it, I see no reason to hold myself to a higher standard.

P.S. If you write me, I’ll be sure to forward that to my compliance and correspondence officer. Or Tier 3. Or Reader Spark. Or that guy Jonathan sitting in the basement waiting to help you. Please give me at least 24 business days to ignore your message.

Social Media Is You

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Social media is different things to different people. As a universal tool, Facebook has created several tools to allow you to curate and control what you see (or don’t), including individual websites. Use the tools to control what you see before lamenting that there’s content that you don’t like. It’s not perfect, but neither is a conversation with friends. We all have friends who insist on talking about herbal tea remedies, Trump vs. Obama, or who invite us to play Pinball Casino Gunfight 2019.

It reminds me of those who visit the beach and shriek about the hot sand, never acknowledging that beach flip-flops cure the problem. It’s easier for you to put on flip-flops than it is to close the beach unless you’re Chris Christie.

Each of us has our own particular interests, whether they are sports, politics, religion, video gaming, or literature. We share many interests to varying degrees, but it’s hard to overlap completely in a world wherein some people think that baseball, the sports equivalent of earwax, is something interesting. I’ll watch any baseball clip if it contains someone getting brained by a thrown bat or the first baseman’s pants falling down as he dives for a grounder. (My ideal clip would be if every player suddenly stripped naked and jumped into the stands, screaming in Chinese.)

This is exactly why the smart social media companies have tailored their apps for individuals to control their own content. If each of us posts what we find interesting and we also curate our own news feed, it’s a little nonsensical to demand changes to a system already designed to address the ‘problem’ as you see it. Social media is similar to tv, with the exception that you have to do a little bit of work to avail yourself to the entire world it brings to you.

Social media has been one of our biggest communications accomplishments. We can log on and have instantaneous access to any of our friends, family, and co-workers, anywhere in the world. Of course, they are going to talk about things that you don’t find interesting. With a press of a button, you can forever eliminate any link to CNN, Fox News, MLB/NBA, or Infowars. You can also swipe past, just as if you were speeding past an old rust-covered jalopy on the interstate without looking to your right to see the weirdo driving it. (Hint: it’s probably me.)

As much as you might hate to see a post regarding Polynesian Ear Mites or How Democrats Are Drinking Their Own Urine, trust me, there are people holding their phones and rolling their eyes at whatever inane thing you find to be either interesting or entertaining. It’s what makes the world so interesting. As a bona fide eccentric, trust me when I tell you that you would be shocked to find out just how many people think each of us is full of crap.

Share what interests you and use the tools at your fingertips to avoid exposure to what you find ridiculous. You wouldn’t want to live in a world with reduced options because that world will soon enough find you as you grow older and those around you slowly circle in.

Some of us are fascinated by a million different things. Others, like me, create almost everything they post.

Between occasionally being forced to remember that Major League Baseball is actually considered a sport and it ceasing to exist, I’ll tolerate it for the few crazy moments it sometimes can provide. Social media is the same.