Category Archives: Technology

Bird’s Butt View

I have my own version of the Weather Channel now.

I bought a nice Blink wireless camera. It allows me to watch the birds on my plant/bird feeder balcony hook, as well as the world outside.

When I initially set it up, I was surprised to see that Amazon had somehow sent me the feed from the backyard camera at my old house on Vanleer in Springdale.

Having the camera also opens up a world of creativity, too, such as “Skits On The Balcony,” or “Let’s Look At Humanity” documentaries. (With “People of Walmart” in mind.) I will try not to be intrusive with this. However, that’s the problem with this sort of technology. I’m confident that I’m going to wake up to find I have an hour of footage of the neighbor romping in the parking lot in his skivvies. A few days ago, I stood on the balcony getting cooked in the sun. A car drove in, and a young woman hopped out without a shirt. From somewhere in the car, someone hurled a shirt through the passenger window. The woman caught it and put it on almost one-handed. There’s a lot of inferences I can make with this anecdote, some lewd, some amusing. When she looked up and saw me on the balcony, I gave her my Forrest Gump wave and laughed.

As old as these apartments are, somehow I was surprised to find no security cameras, even in the laundry room from “Nightmare On Elm Street.” They can be installed cheaply and require no monitoring. The type I bought can be used with a USB drive, hidden anywhere – and checked only when a tenant decides to test a flamethrower from the balcony. (Note: this isn’t unlikely.)

Last week, after a long interval of no additional improvements, a small crew showed up with a Bobcat (not the nocturnal prowling kind) and erected the bones of a lateral fence in front of the dumpster. This will ensure that passersby don’t see it, whereas the residents will get an enclosed cauldron of trash and insects. It seems like a fair trade. That fence will also obscure a big portion of my view of the intersection there. That’s too bad, as there are a lot of fender-benders there. Everyone attempting to pull in here runs the risk of getting hit from behind due to the unequal alignment of the apartment driveway versus the opposing cross street. The fence partially quashes my money-making scheme to sell the footage to those unlucky souls engaged in an impromptu demolition derby.

Anyway.

I’m making a list of tomfoolery in which to engage with this camera.

Love, X

You Can Count On Me

The census worker stood by my custom address plate when I emerged from around the blind corner of the house, holding a long metal ladder over my head like an idiot. I didn’t know he was standing there; the ladder was over my head for purely ridiculous reasons. The truth is that it seems perfectly safe and reasonable to run around one’s house with a long metal ladder above one’s head, much in the same way that scampering inside the house with two pairs of open scissors seems safe. I’m 53, so stupidity hasn’t so far been fatal. Check back tomorrow, please.

The census worker must have noted a large shadow was overtaking him because he turned around quickly. I’m not sure what he was thinking – only that he was perplexed. Without bothering explaining why I say so, he was the embodiment of what a census taker should look like. I wish he had been wearing a green accountant’s visor. It could save us all a lot of guessing and speculation as the workers navigate through neighborhoods. (If you’re with the Census Bureau, you’re welcome.)

“I completed my census form online a long time ago,” I told him. “Sorry about listing myself as a Vulcan. It was hard enough searching for ‘human’ on the checkboxes.”

“Yes, I saw that in my system. I’m doing a follow-up on a few of your neighbors.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” I told him. “I’m X, bilingual, and do genealogy and general nosiness.”

He smiled. “I’m having problems getting these two houses to respond. I’ve been here before, left notes, etc.” He pointed across the street.

“Yes, you’re not going to get a great response rate here for the reasons you’d expect.” I told him the number of people residing in each house and their general age, ethnicity, and why I thought they wouldn’t respond no matter how many times he knocked, called, emailed, or parachuted into their respective backyards. The census worker seemed surprised when I told him that the first house he pointed to had 6 cars usually parked everywhere. (It looks like a parking lot. The entire neighborhood is slowly becoming one – a fact I predicted when we moved here. A closed set of streets that allows parking on both sides is doomed to become a hazard.)

“You’re going to need to bring a minority census worker with you. You need to come back at 6 p.m. and approach the house when one occupant is already outside. And say, “We need your help” instead of whatever has been scripted for you.” The census worker nodded. We talked for a few minutes.

Before surprising the census worker, I noticed someone sitting suspiciously along the curb a couple of times. I imagined several imaginary scenarios for him: assassin, assessor, or inept thief. I’m still surprised that people distrust census workers. That says a lot about my sheltered life and privilege.

The total number of residents in those two houses is 15-17, depending on the time of the year. That’s a lot of federal money and representation missing. Multiply it by the likelihood that the same pattern is being repeated over much of Springdale, and you get the idea of how massive the problem is.

I’ve done more than my share to help people understand what the census is for and why citizenship is irrelevant for the purposes of counting. I can understand why some people might not be so trusting, given the White House’s occupant in the last few years. Since the census is being prematurely closed down this year, it is a certainty that we’re all being undercounted. Whatever else is going on, the current president isn’t helping matters.

Whether every person should be counted is an issue for us to decide and remedy via the constitution. Until we change the way we do it, we rely on accuracy to share dollars and representation. I get a little cranky about constitutional arguments, as the group of rich white men who wrote it managed to demean well over half the population when they did so.

I have a few white American friends who are also deliberately not participating in the census. Some do so out of privacy fears, some simply because they don’t understand how it impacts them, their community, or their children. The others fall into a category I call “boneheadedness.” That’s what democracy is for: to irritate one’s neighbors. As a liberal, I do my part.

Everyone failing to be counted is doing all of us a disservice. Unlike failing to vote, it is inaction that literally costs us.

With the technology we have today, it is difficult to understand why such a herculean bureaucracy is needed to do what consistently applied technology can. Before I pat myself on the back, I admit that such a system would rely on people much smarter than I am – and not as prone to shenanigans.

Meanwhile, countless residents refuse to answer their doors or reply to the mail the census bureau sends.

As for neighbors who didn’t answer directly, they can thank me for doing the heavy lifting for them. If I had the inclination, I would knock on their doors and leave a note to let them know that their secrecy in itself draws attention to a handful of possible explanations that tend to draw increased scrutiny rather than less. Unlike many, I understand their reluctance and remind myself that my reality is not theirs and to stop blinding myself to it.

I enjoyed talking to the census worker. He was impressively smart about a lot of topics. They really need the green visors, though.
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Notes: The 2020 census was conducted with fewer than 1/2 the total census workers we used in 2016. Many Americans don’t know that everyone alive inside the United States is supposed to be counted. This is the first census that allowed responses by mail, internet, phone, and in-person. For those who don’t do genealogy, census data is released 72 years after it was taken. (This information is incredibly valuable to us tracking ancestors.)

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.