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Robust McManlyPants on Average Display » technology

technology


Heavens. I can’t believe I let this sit for 10 months. A quick run-down of the things that have happened since my last update:

  • I won the 2012 Laine Cunningham Novel Award from The Blotter with my novel Perishables. It’s three connected stories about various experiences of a zombie apocalypse. In one of them, a vampire is at a meeting of his homeowners’ association when the dead rise. It’s a little silly and a little funny and a little serious and it has terrible recipes in it.
  • I published Perishables via Smashwords and Kindle and then decided to edit and publish the sequel, called Tooth & Nail. It’s built on a heavily edited NaNoWriMo I did some years ago about the same vampire.
  • I worked the partisan primary runoff election and my staff never mentioned the O’Keefe video. I’m sure they had seen it, but no one brought it up. I was intensely grateful.
  • I worked the general election in November. Jesus H. Christ on a platinum surfboard, what a day. I’ve never been so busy. It was busier than the partisan primary but the county gave me lots of staff and we all survived. There were partisan observers from both major parties in my precinct but they were very kind to me and to one another. Again, I’m sure lots of those people had seen the video but no one said anything. I was at least ten times as grateful because I had plenty more to think about that day. I also passed the election without any major run-ins with campaigners though I did have a couple of really amusing conversations with them.
  • I spent much of last autumn thinking about Tooth & Nail while I did a few promotional activities for Perishables: interviews on blogs and podcasts, for instance, and a few Google Hangouts with a group devoted to zombie fiction fandom. It was nice, after all the stupid bullshit of a year ago, to have a fictional world in which I could curl up and forget reality.
  • I ran my first 5K fun-run last October and my friend who is 6’7″ and ex-Army Airborne had trouble keeping up with me.
  • I spent November, December and January editing Tooth & Nail and dealing with my next-to-last class in the graduate certificate program I’ve been pursuing. I was kind of a stress ball.
  • I’ve spent the spring semester dealing with my last class and I still am kind of a stress ball.
  • I tried to play in two games of Call of Cthulhu at Dragon*Con last year, both of which were disastrous busts. I ended up running a one-shot for the Scourge of Nibelheim (aka “the Vampire group”) a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it but it ran too long and I didn’t get to include like half the stuff I came up with for it because I am just terrible at managing a game and remembering, you know, the poignant bits.
  • I had Shadowrun pretty much ruined for me, and for all my friends, by one really terrible game of it at Dragon*Con. Way to stay classy, totally-separate-and-self-isolating-and-aggressively-dickishly-insular Shadowrun Dragon*Con gaming track.
  • I ran my first timed 5K a few weeks ago and on a cloudy, rainy morning of running uphill at ~40F I clocked in at 25:13.6, 7th out of 46. I am extremely happy with that!
  • I’ve learned to love Twitter. Seriously, I used to say it was the diametric opposite of what I wanted the Internet to grow up to be but it is pretty great.
  • I gave a five-minute lightning talk at the opensource.com #cc10 get-together celebrating 10 years of Creative Commons:

  • I’m approximately two years behind on reading comics. I plan to catch up as soon as I finish this graduate certificate program next month.
  • I’ve been asked to contribute a short story to an anthology built around the theme of “invasion” and am currently mulling some ideas. I am super-excited!
  • I attended my twenty year high school reunion and survived it and even reconnected majorly with some really wonderful people I knew back in the day. Facebook and life in general have gotten a lot more entertaining as a result.
  • I’ve joined a queer softball league.
  • I’m going to be a guest at ConCarolinas in Charlotte the weekend of 5/31 through 6/2!
  • I want the word “marriage” and I want to win the Supreme Court cases, absolutely, but I am also a little bit afraid that the queer communities will be divided into “normals” and “freaks” if we win and that the Right will use our victory as an opportunity to draw a line between those of us who are already primed for idle conformity: relatively moneyed, adhering more closely to rigid gender roles and identities, white, middle-class, “safe”. It will be vital, if we win this, to remember that it still must be okay to be different. Difference is what has given us the culture we create and celebrate together and difference has given us the advantages we are afforded by outsider status in the larger culture around us. We must continue to value people who have different families, different identities, different relationships (or none at all), different goals, different priorities and different beliefs. We do not all have to settle down into quiet, monogamous, dom/sub, top/bottom dichotomies defined by doggy day care and dinner parties. We have to stay freaks somehow.
  • My house is ruled by my cats and sometimes I find that really frustrating but mostly I am thrilled beyond measure at their benevolent dictatorship.
  • I’ve been watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 while at the gym and it is really fucking good.
  • Last year I skipped NaNoWriMo – what would have been my tenth – to focus on editing Tooth & Nail. This summer I’m doing My Own Private NaNo to work on the first draft of a science fiction novel, the setting for which was developed in a two-session game of Microscope played by Scourge of Nibelheim.
  • We tried Fiasco this year and it is so. Freaking. Fun.
  • I bought a new camera – an Olympus – and I loooooove it.

Is that everything? I think that’s everything. A year of blogging in a single post. Heavens, indeed.

This (long) weekend I walked 16.5 miles. There are three main routes I take: a 3.5 mile route through the neighborhood that I regularly walk with Pants Wilder; a 7.3 mile route up to the American Tobacco Trail, down a good length of it and then back to The Boyf’s & my place through a series of neighborhoods that includes Zinfab’s; and a 9.5 mile route where I go up to the ATT, down a length of it, then turn around and come back the same way. I did the shortest route twice and the longest once over the course of the weekend and it felt great: beautiful weather, a floppy straw hat that both fits and was bought on clearance at Target. What, me Scottish? Never. In point of fact…

I also ponied up the cash for a fancy pair of headphones because I am sick to death of the default iPhone earbuds. The originals were fine and all for occasional use but once I started wearing them for long periods I realized that whereas the left one fit great the right one couldn’t decide whether it most loved to fall out or to rub my ear bloodily raw. No thanks. I opted for earbuds I thought were crazily expensive but extremely well-reviewed: the Klipsch Image S4i.

Long story short, they stay in without issue, are very comfortable, have bud tips large enough to fit my ears and sound good enough that I can understand a podcast or the lyrics to a song without turning the volume up beyond quite modest levels. Given that my hearing is already iffy in certain circumstances, this is an excellent thing. I do not need to damage my hearing further than marching in front of the drums and years of Legends’ goth nights already did for me. They also don’t completely deafen me to the outside world. I can hear cars and bicycle bells and the clank of chains just fine so I don’t find myself shocked when a car or a dog walker or the like turn up right behind me.

The weather this weekend really was exceptionally good and the walks were incredibly restorative. I get an uncontrolled twitch in my right eyelid when I’m too tired or too stressed and that thing had been going crazy for weeks. Last weekend we consciously took it easy and that helped but this weekend seems to have made it go away. It’s nice to feel a little more in control of my health and it’s nice to spend hours in the big blue room and feel good after.

On Saturday I won the NC Japan Center’s speech contest for my level (level 2). I am… honestly, I am extremely thrilled about this. I worked pretty hard to write my speech and then to edit it down to reasonable levels and after mangling the Japanese language in last year’s speech contest I am thrilled to have pulled it off this year. My speech was about books vs. e-books. I’m pretty pleased with myself. Mad snaps to my classmates, too, who both delivered excellent and funny speeches and to the other winners of the other levels.

Now, for the nerds: on Friday my work laptop notified me that the automatic upgrade to Ubuntu 10.04 was available. I did a little reading online, found that no one was having major problems with it and then set to downloading it. This took… a long time. I got it done, though, and during our weekly staff meeting my laptop chugged away and turned itself into a 10.04 laptop instead of 9.10. When all was said and done everything seemed to work as expected only faster. Nice! Or so it seemed.

This morning I noticed that what was happening some on Friday was continuing to happen: Outlook 2007 under Crossover Linux was frequently locking up and dying on me. Great. My work is changing over to Exchange and the Outlook calendar is going to be our single calendar as of a few months from now. Some people are already using it, too, so I had no option but to figure out a way to get this working. Nothing I did – downloading and installing the latest build of Crossover Linux, etc. – seemed to make a difference and I was starting to get a little concerned.

Further reading let me in on the fact that the most recent release of the evolution-mapi plugin for Ubuntu’s native Evolution mail client was included in 10.04. I had tried an older version of evolution-mapi a few months ago and found that it choked on the calendaring side. My only hope – after hours of fiddling with Thunderbird and Lightning and all sorts of crap – was to give the newer evolution-mapi a shot.

Initial testing showed that the calendar was working fine – just great, in fact – but Evolution kept croaking when it had to refresh my rather overstuffed inbox (about 6,500 messages, yes, I know). One manual inbox clean-up via webmail later, I had my inbox down to about 1/10th its starting size and now Evolution is having no problem at all. So, I guess the latest version of evolution-mapi works. If you, like me, were finding that Evolution would hang when trying to load your mailbox, try cutting the mailbox down to size first. It doesn’t seem to like large inboxes but it does seem to handle all the Exchange stuff just fine.

Saturday night The Boyf and I went to the Carolina Theatre of Durham to catch one night of a three-day run of West Side Story. He had never seen it, another entry in the years-long game of him confessing to never having seen something and me expressing shock entirely out of proportion to that. The print was just unbelievably gorgeous. It was like seeing the movie new. It was in every bit as good shape as the brand new, never-shown print of Wrath of Khan the Carolina showed at Escapism! a few years ago. The crowd was middling but wrapt. When the credits rolled we all sat in silence and just watched, absorbed in those closing moments. I get goosebumps thinking about it, honest to the gods. I love that movie.

Of course, it’s proven to bear special value to me as a Twin Peaks fanatic, since two of the male leads were in that show. It’s pretty amazing to see them so young. The sight of Riff doing back-flips through a crowd as they dance around him is made even more impressive when one realizes that’s Dr. Jacoby.

Almost the whole rest of the weekend was spent installing Ubuntu on my work laptop, getting AFS and Samba and vpnc and everything else set up and working, then trying a new video driver that hosed my system completely, then starting over from scratch. It’s all done, though, and today I’ve worked in Ubuntu all day without issue and am currently, in another window, installing XP on a 20GB slice in VMware for the sole purpose of doing my timesheets (yes, really) and the occasional Visio diagram. How sweet is that? It’s a complete reversal from Friday, when I was running Ubuntu in a VMware slice on my Windows laptop so I could test-drive the alternative installer’s option to set up an encrypted file system.

Some dozen-plus years ago I briefly had a Unix workstation as my day-to-day work machine and I’ve basically been waiting to get back to that state of affairs ever since. For years upon years I have gazed longingly at Bascha’s work laptop, which runs Linux, and thought to myself that someday I would get to a place where I could do the same.

Now that I’m back in an academic environment, and one short on budget at that, my request to run an OS other than Windows was met with more than acquiescence; my boss commented that of course I could, he had decided to do the same thing himself.

Nice. It makes for a pretty decent start to the week.

I’ve got an iPhone, but it’s one of the old, first generation models that uses the 2G EDGE network for data rather than AT&T’s 3G network. Is it me, or did the EDGE network get faster the day the 3G S came out? I am forced to think it’s a combination of two factors: (1) AT&T adding a whole bunch of bandwidth for new 3G S customers and old EDGE customers increasing their potential bandwidth use by going to the 3G S and (2) a bunch of users moving off the EDGE network. Awesome!

The Boyf and I watch a lot of old TV because we are suckers for shows such as Twin Peaks and Rockford Files and Buffy and the like. When we watch something like that one of us almost always points out the way in which the cell phone would have negated the entire plot or at least a great deal of its action. Twin Peaks would have been utterly impossible in the age of the cell phone, or at least a lot more difficult. A tremendous number of scenes in Rockford involve someone being locked in a room, out in the middle of nowhere or trying to run to a payphone. Countless moments of suspense in Buffy would have been easily solved by the eponymous heroine simply having a phone by which she can be reached when everyone else needs some critter’s ass kicked.

It’s remarkable to me how such a simple idea – a mobile phone – can rewrite our everyday expectations. Those sorts of technological transitions endlessly fascinate me: the shift into a mindset where day-to-day living includes there being a telephone available at all times or, in earlier eras, that transportation is readily available and can move at one’s chosen speed on one’s chosen path, that mobility has come to the masses in the form of the automobile, that correspondence needn’t take weeks or months, all the ways transportation and mass communications have completely reshaped our world. I watch something like Rockford and I think, wow, this entire goose-chasey episode would make no sense in the age of the cell phone because at the very beginning he could have just called the guy. I watch one of the Thin Man movies and there are Nora’s clucking old relatives dressed like a Victorian wedding party and I think, wow, these people probably don’t understand how to use the telephone they own. I see little artifacts of set dressing – a telephone table in a hallway or a payphone in the background or a horse on a city street or a living room that isn’t oriented towards a television – and I marvel.

I don’t claim any special insight as a result of this. I basically am just entranced by the ways we barely notice how everything has changed.

Friday night, 7:30, The Carolina Theatre of Durham: John Carpenter’s The Thing. Who‘s super-stoked? I am super-stoked. I also used this as a way to experiment with creating events on Facebook, so if you know me on there and you want to go, let me know and I will send you an invitation. There is, of course, an awesome trailer on YouTube:

I think it might actually kill me to wait two days.

In other news, I bought a new camera with a gift card from the holidays: Fujifilm S2000HD. I’ve been playing with it a bit and am totally in love. Those are just random shots taken without having yet read the manual so that I can see how they turn out with zero education.

Dreamhost has begun supporting Gallery 2.3 as a one-click install/upgrade which is awesome because it includes Akismet anti-spam capabilities. Until recently I had to go through every few days and delete a couple dozen spam comments to keep my gallery presentable. Since the upgrade, not a one. Sweet.

This means I can more comfortably point out that my cats are adorable. Surely this is an observation unique to the internet.

On to other, freakier topics: last night I was going around the house locking up and such prior to going out to eat when I heard a muffled thud outside near the front of the house. I didn’t see anything and the sound in question could come from a million innocent sources and the cats did not run and hide so I didn’t think much of it but I kept my eyes peeled when I went out the back door, through our super-clangy gate (made of purest audium, guaranteed to wake the dead) and around the side of the house to get in the car. What did I espy? A dude in a jogging suit or something like it with a hat or a hood that shaded his face completely standing across the street looking in my direction. When I stepped out of the shadows and into the relative light of the driveway he took off running. I do not mean that he began to jog, I mean that he burst into full-bore pedestrian flight complete with frequent glances back over his shoulder at me.

Nothing seemed amiss with the house so I leapt into the car and tried to chase him but by the time I was in, had it started, got up the drive and was down the street he was nowhere to be seen. Aha, I thought, My coincidental timing has scared him away.

Then I got to thinking, what if he comes back while I’m at dinner?

The way I figured, if it were a harmless misunderstanding – say, a vigorous and perhaps slightly skittish jogger – then I could sup without concern. Were he a would-be opportunistic burglar or thief of some sort and I’d simply surprised him with my gate-clangings as he, for instance, considered breaking into the car of the neighbor across the street, then I’d probably scared him so badly that he was long gone and I could, again, sup without concern. The third option was that he was the sort who would be back in moments and in that case, you know what? Fuck that, I was going to dinner and getting out of his damned way.

I did call 911, though, and they sent a prowl car out to do a couple of laps and see if they could spot someone matching the description, such as it was. Weird. When I got home I went through yard and around house and inside and all the closets and rooms with a flashlight but nothing turned up. Bizarre.

Through a short but unexpected chain of relationships I was asked yesterday to appear this morning in a brief interview on Scott Fitzgerald’s show on WPTF 680 AM. To be honest, whether or not to say yes was something of a quandary. On the one hand, I couldn’t turn up anything specifically negative about the host and the chain of relationships involves a much-loved former boss; on the other, this is a right-wing AM talk radio station that plays Sean Hannity, for gods’ sakes.

After some thought and a discussion with The Boyf I decided that, given that the topic itself – securing credit card data and protecting personal information – is fairly apolitical and the tone of the thing seemed to be educational rather than advocating a particular point of view, well, what the hell, right? I did a little reading up on the big TJX breach, as that was apparently going to be the topic that morning, and wrote down a few thoughts in case my brain was fuzzy at 7:10am.

The experience itself was nice enough. The host was polite, the interview was brief, I didn’t say ‘um’ every other word and I got to say the thing that made me ultimately decide to do this: that there is no such thing as “security.” As I said to the host (after trying it out a couple of times on KJ, bascha and The Boyf last night), our society has become convinced that “security” is some attainable state of the absence of risk but in truth “security” is the ongoing process of trying to find a balance between risk and convenience.

It’s childish and silly of me but I really relished saying that to an audience of security-obsessed wingnuts.

The only thing I don’t understand is why the host asked me how 9/11 had changed network security. It hasn’t. I didn’t get a chance to bring this up but the truth is that 9/11 didn’t change a damned thing about network security – at least not in the markets where I’ve worked – because 9/11 was a physical attack, not an electronic one. The big engines of change have been government regulation, the very market interventions that free market righty types find so abhorrent. I’ve seen more clients make positive changes to their networks and their policies as a result of SarbOx, HIPAA and the FFIEC than anything else.

The host asked how a person can protect their credit card data and I said, in all honesty, that we can’t. The truth is that once your financial data is in a store’s hands it is out of yours. Period. If that data is compromised then they have to notify you but they don’t have to tell you how or by whom or anything else. In fact, there is a disincentive to inform. TJX’s (eventual) openness about how the theft was done led to lawsuit upon lawsuit. During the time span that the big, multi-store heist in question was being executed my bank sent me three (3) new copies of my credit card and I’ve never known exactly why. Was my information in that data? Probably so; I’ve shopped at Barnes & Noble plenty of times.

The example I gave them was that if one wants to make sure one’s credit or debit card data is never stolen from, say the grocery store, then one had better always pay in cash. It’s not that simple, though. Paying in cash means remembering to go to the cash machine and knowing exactly how much one will spend at the store. That also requires protecting one’s PIN from prying eyes at the ATM, keeping one’s wallet from ever getting stolen and then, even then, if one’s data is stolen directly from the bank, well… so much for all that effort.

The payment card industry has a set of protocols it requires called the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). It’s a good start but it is only that: a start. It covers some basic common sense benchmarks but these are as basic as making sure default passwords aren’t left on vendor-provided cash registers and other equipment. It’s bare-bones at best. The truth is that payment data theft is a problem for which the market is not ever going to correct. The use of cards is way too profitable for everyone involved. Stores, the banks that issue the cards, the payment card providers themselves, payment processors, everyone involved makes way too much money off cards to ever give them up or to make them too inconvenient to use. No store is going to react warmly to someone walking in off the street and asking how that store protects credit card data. No store ever advertises that customer data is more secure with them than with their competitors.

So what do we do? There isn’t much we can do without accepting a high level of inconvenience. Sure, there are options – get prepaid cards to use for online shopping, but read up on the fraud protection for those cards first just in case it’s not as good as your normal credit card. Get a secured credit card. Get a credit card with your picture on it. Keep tabs on your account activity online – weekly, not monthly. Request a copy of your credit report once per year if not once per quarter. Write a check instead of using the card; check data can also be stolen but it’s harder to get at one’s cash with check data. Better yet, use cash. There are ways in which the TJX heist was very clever – they combined elements of physical theft (geographical proximity and physical access to the store) with an electronic intrusion (computer security is often contemplated only as a means of preventing distant attacks) – but ultimately war-driving and cracking WEP aren’t exactly innovations and the theft overall follows the same pattern used in all such cases: the thieves cast the widest possible net and took the easiest pickings. The only thing to do is to make one’s self a less attractive target surrounded by lower-hanging fruit.

None of these make the stores protect our data any better, though, and nothing ever will. Most of these ideas are only useful to protect against identity theft which could be much more easily and thoroughly protected by a couple of basic regulatory changes – require photos be included in credit reports and require automated notification if one’s credit report is accessed for any reason, two things that would cost the credit bureaus some money and save everyone else a lot of headache. Even regulation will at best discourage such carelessness in the retail sector. Ultimately the only option we have is to stare into the abyss and decide for ourselves how much we want that TV or that t-shirt.

So what do I do?

I use my card all the time. I hardly ever have more than a couple of dollars on me in cash. It’s just too convenient. I make up for it by monitoring my account and my credit record and trusting that I’ll be able to get refunds for any fraudulent activity. So far, so good. That’s “security” for me: the amount of risk I’m willing to tolerate balanced against the convenience I desire. Anyone who tells you “security” is anything else believes they can make a buck off it if they tell you enough times.

I just used my credit union’s car buying service website to ask them to find me a Prius with the options I want. Tomorrow morning I’m getting up early to go into my local branch because SECU just started a program to offer very low interest rate loans on hybrid vehicles.

Eek?

Last night The Boyf and I went to test-drive a little Saturn sedan. It was cute enough and it had some fun features – 5-speed, which we both prefer, a sunroof, etc. – but it just wasn’t what I was looking for (a cascade of car issues has us both looking for new cars while sharing mine). On our way across the lot to the car we had both spotted a used Prius with a big SOLD sign on the dash and shared some quiet lamentations. After the test drive, on the way back into the dealership to consider test-driving a little Solara coupe we’d also seen, The Boyf took a closer look at the Prius and then called me back to where he was.

“Is today the 28th?” he asked, then he looked at his phone. “Is it after 7pm?” I confirmed both of these were the case. “This car went back on sale nineteen minutes ago.”

It turned out that the car was being held for a potential transfer to another dealership but there was a timer on that hold and the timer ran out at 7pm last night. So, The Boyf and I had some thinkin’ to do.

Long story short, we didn’t buy it. The demand for the Prius is so high that used ones – even used ones for which the warranty on the hybrid components is about five seconds from running out and for which nothing else is under warranty at all – cost a pittance less than brand new ones. I couldn’t justify spending that much money for a car that might be really, really expensive to fix when I’ve already turned my nose up at a very reasonably priced very nice mid-’90s sedan from another company on the same grounds.

During the two hours it took us to hash out whether this would or would not be a good idea, though, I did the following:

  • asked to borrow the salesman’s computer and in moments got past their feeble measures designed to keep people from accessing the internet so that I could read some reviews, which was just fun
  • called mrh (a buddy from Unfogged) to chat with him about his Prius; he was unbelievably nice about being called out of the blue
  • used my phone and The Boyf’s phone to hit different reviews sites at the same time and get estimated repair costs for various things

In the end I decided that with tremendous fiscal restraint I could save up enough to get a much smaller loan on a new one in six or eight months and would much rather my first hybrid have all the warranty in the world on it. So, we disappointed a friendly car salesman but life went on; while he was trying to write up our interest in the car he hit a stumbling block of his own in that someone in South Carolina was trying to buy it at the same time. Somebody’s going to buy that car today, I’m sure. He’ll make his sale.

This whole act of car shopping, I note, has been an act of setting goals and then immediately trashing them. My three big requirements were that any car I got had to be a stick (the Prius is automatic-only), had to have a sunroof (no sunroof!) and had to be used because, as I am fond of pointing out, any car loses a tremendous amount of value the moment the first owner signs the paperwork. So, did I just set a new goal to trash? Or did I just set a better goal to which I would rather aspire?

I have commented in the past – on Unfogged, no less, so that I apologized twice to mrh for this when discussing the Prius with him – that I think the Prius is an awesome car but not an attractive one. It is a car that looks a bit like a hamster, to be honest; my preference is not just for muscle cars but for cars that appear to be trapped for all time in the act of flexing. I said all of that before driving one. Driving one – just for five miles – completely changed my opinion of them. They aren’t just extremely comfortable or extremely quiet – they are, and at one point I murmured to The Boyf as we practically subvocalized our running commentary with the salesman sitting quietly in the back seat, “When was the last time we had a conversation this quiet in either of our cars?” – and they aren’t just loaded with features – the “base” model is priced lower because it lacks cruise control and heated fucking mirrors – they are also extremely neat. The gear shift is completely different from any other in a way that’s hard to describe. The thing is practically made of extra glove compartments. For a hatchback there’s pretty great visibility and the engine has remarkable pep for being so tiny. It took off at a faster trot than my Cherokee (yes, I am one of those people) and I passed someone assholishly to make sure it could be driven in the fashion I acknowledge that I prefer to drive.

The Boyf was reading a review as we sat in the sales guy’s office, later, and said, “Oh, it’s recommended that a Prius be driven for thirty continuous minutes at least once a week to make sure the batteries get completely topped off. So I guess we’re going to have to go for long, quiet drives in the country without using much gas.”

Oh darn.

I think I’m going to go transfer more into the Prius fund.

I am, again, the on-call.

Oh how I hate being the on-call. Oh how I wish I had some sort of terrible power – let’s say pyrokinesis – that I could unleash on them. Instead I will merely note the following very bad ideas.

If you want not to be hated by everyone, do not:

  • upgrade your Exchange server on Super Bowl Sunday. What the fuck are you even thinking? Do you know whom I had to call about that? The only guy in our whole company who lives in Boston. During the Super Bowl. This Super Bowl. While he was hosting a party.
  • make me spend weeks holding your hand, configuring your firewalls, smoothing all the wrinkles, learning your network, calling you every day like some lovelorn teen and then decide that even though what I’m doing is better than what you originally wanted it all needs to be scrapped because it’s not what you originally wanted. Do not then also gripe about getting something better even as you acknowledge that it is better.
  • call in at nearly midnight, an hour after you’ve rebooted a firewall that’s acting wonky, and ask me to “fix” it. It isn’t broken anymore. What is there to fix? The only thing I can see that I could possibly want to fix are my hands around your throat. Oh, silly me, that’s fit or perhaps affix.

These simple tips will surely help your various IT staff and other such folks not kill you in the hallway. You can thank me later.

Mmmmm. So tasty. So sleek. I dig. OpenOffice barfs like crazy but who cares? I have Pages. Delicious, aromatic Pages.

So, I bought an iPhone. Setup was a dream, etc., etc. It took all of two minutes to activate it. Activating it through iTunes was a little weird – a little too tunnel-of-brand-identity for me – but whatever. The first time it synced it warned me that it was on version 1.0 of its firmware and to upgrade to 1.0.2 and doing so was a breeze. The interface is perfect, selecting what to sync was super-simple, using it with Wi-Fi is fantastic. I was an instant addict. I was already an AT&T customer so I already knew how my signal is. Where I am, the signal is great. No problem. No change there; if anything the iPhone gets better reception than my RAZR did.

Now, the problem: it wouldn’t receive calls. It would make them, sure, but the phone just would not ring. If I woke it up to look at it then it would say, hey! You missed some calls! At first I wasn’t sure I minded that, to be honest, but what if The Boyf needed to reach me in an emergency and what if if if, etc., so I called the AT&T store on Wednesday after having run some tests on it. Deadblob and Jos had listened to me bitch about this for some time and we’d read about it online and I wasn’t the only person with this problem. None of the suggested fixes seemed to work and so, it appeared, I had a dud iPhone.

I called the AT&T store to explain this to them and find out about doing an exchange. They cut me off immediately, put me on hold for a while and then came back and said I’d need to call the Apple store.

Fine, whatever.

I call the Apple store and the guy (a) listens to me and then (b) says, “OK, you just need to make an appointment with the Genius Bar and we’ll do an exchange. The AT&T store could do this for you, but they never do.” Point for Apple! They listened and they slagged on AT&T right out of the gate. As a former employee of Ma Bell, I can appreciate this.

Long story short, the Apple store did an exchange for me and tested the new one with me. It took – maybe at the outside – ten minutes to get everything taken care of and walk out with a new, activated, working phone.

So, I have mixed feelings. I’m not terribly surprised that the customer service experience at AT&T was less than stellar. Not terribly surprised at all. I’m not terribly surprised that the Apple store would just fix the problem without any hassle and stick around to make sure I was happy. It didn’t especially surprise me that I got a dud, either, to be absolutely honest; no technology is 100%. What did surprise me was the honest frustration with AT&T exhibited by every single Apple store employee with whom I spoke. What did surprise me is that the phone the AT&T store sold me was from launch. That 1.0 firmware? Yeah. I guess they really haven’t sold as well as hoped if the AT&T store at South Square is still sitting on launch-day inventory.

On the one hand, despite five of the seven days I’ve had an iPhone being filled with technical problems – the night before I exchanged it the phone also stopped syncing and stopped being capable of setting its clock correctly, coming up with random-ass times completely on its own – I wouldn’t go back to my RAZR for anything short of a small fortune. On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend anyone pin much in the way of hopes and dreams to the iPhone. It’s awesome to use. I love mine. I also know that I’m not the only person who’s had the problems I’ve had and that the only reason I had any success getting my problems dealt with is that I live five minutes from an Apple store.

Thought #1:

I bought an iPhone yesterday. My much-loved RAZR v3xx up and died on me. I mean died. They told me it was going to take a warranty return to get a new one and that Motorola would mail me a new phone and I said to hell with it and got this. It is pretty ridiculously awesome.

Thought #2:

I am enjoying the Harry Dresden novels, which I’m currently reading, but Harry isn’t exactly the sharpest tack in the box. Still, it has the best description of magic that I’ve seen in pretty much any book. I dig.

Thought #3:

It occurs to me to wonder whether the relationship our society has with geeks, with people who really understand technology and are frequently called upon to correct or repair it, could be compared to the relationships of tribal societies to their shamans. I don’t know enough about traditional shamanism in various cultures to know if that’s a valid thought, though. I’ve read plenty of “modern shaman” books of theory but done nearly zero real scholarship of shamanism in the world. Still that angle of the geek being the outcast to be held in slight, continual suspicion as almost dangerously Other while being a vital healer and visionary and working to intercede to heal the rifts between the population at large and the world of almost-spirit which technology inhabits might be a useful angle to consider. If it’s true that society treats geeks in the way shamanistic societies have treated those healers then what does it say about our own culture’s latent animism and the human tendency to turn things into entities?

Thought #4:

I would really like to see a true-to-text film adaptation of The Long Goodbye with Vince Vaughn playing Marlowe.

I logged into my gallery today to check something and found that on Friday and Saturday I’d gotten a bunch of spam comments there. By “a bunch” I mean several thousand. I am not exaggerating. So, I turned off comments, which sucks. Congratulations, spambots, you win.

In related news, does anyone know of an anti-spam module for Gallery 2? I should specify that Captcha was installed and active but apparently did nothing. Gods, I know nothing about running Gallery anymore. I couldn’t even Google effectively about Gallery and spam. At this rate, I’m going to wake up Tuesday and be unable to find the power button on my computer. I’ll end up hiding in the under-eaves storage trying desperately to invent a word for the horseless carriages I’ll have spied outside my home.

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