Wednesday Wrap-Up

I’m in the last stages of studying for the A+ certification tests for IT, so I haven’t given much thought to blogging lately, sorry. So since I missed yesterday’s tirade, I’ll just write quick about a few things going on lately.

Weed: just make it legal already.

Shootings: WTF America. Keep defending that 2nd Amendment, idiots.

The Safety Dance: weirdly catchy song with creepy video.

LEGO: The Mars Curiosity Rover has been on backorder since basically it went on sale on Jan 1st. Mine is finally showing up at the end of this week. I’ll post up some pics of the build when I get it done – probably this weekend.

The LEGO Movie: Every time I see a preview for it on TV, I get more excited. Can’t wait to see it.

The BP MS150: It’s coming up quick. My wife and I still need to reach the $400 minimum each goals. Please consider donating to support the MS Society and our ride. Click the big logo at the top right of the page.

Net Neutrality: If school shootings and  people gunning others down doesn’t bother you, you’re should be worried about this. For those of you who don’t follow tech news, last week the FCC’s Net Neutrality rule was stricken down, and that means trouble for the internet – and for you. Basically it’s like this: with the net neutrality rule in place, your internet service provider (ISP), be it Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, whatever, is forced to allow access to all websites and internet traffic equally and freely. You can stream Netflix, you can use Bit Torrent, you can run an FTP server, you can visit the Dalai Lama’s official website, you can read my blog.

But with that rule now gone, your ISP is free to basically screw you more than they already do. We all hate our ISPs because they charge outrageous prices for mediocre internet speeds and typically awful customer support. Well, guess what. Now Verizon can choose to charge Netflix a price to stream on their network. Who do you think Netflix is going to pass that added cost on to? You, of course. So that cheap $7/month you enjoy could jump suddenly to $25 or more – who knows (I just made up that number). Let’s say the CEO of AT&T U-Verse doesn’t care for Twitter because of how it clogs the tubes. Well, subscribers to U-Verse may suddenly find out they can’t access Twitter anymore because AT&T is now allowed to block it. They can block the ports and protocols that bit torrent uses to transfer files, thus eliminating a legal way files are distributed. Perhaps Comcast doesn’t like what I have to say about their company – they can choose to block my page from any Comcast subscribers.

The neutrality of the internet is gone. This is dangerous. The FCC needs to change how they categorize ISPs which in turn can change how the ISP are regarded in terms of their service. This will help replacing the FCC’s net neutrality rules. In the meantime, your ISPs have more control over your content, and the government continues to be run by old fogies who don’t understand how the internet works. Be afraid.

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Tuesday Tirade: The Self-Checkout

I don’t have a problem with the self-checkouts as a system (except when they freak out because you brought your own canvas bags). Self-checkoutThey are usually quick and convenient, and when I’m only going in to the store for one or two items is the perfect way to get in and out fast. Plus, I’m able to bag items properly myself – a skill many cashiers and baggers seem to lack these days.

No, my problem is with the people who bring a giant cart full of groceries to the self-checkout. Congratulations, you just destroyed the entire point of the quick and easy self-checkout system. Now people have to wait for you to slowly and painstakingly scan each item one at a time and place it in a bag. Inevitably the computer thinks you are stealing items because the sensor doesn’t think you’ve placed it in a bag, or you’ve added something you haven’t yet scanned, and won’t let you continue, adding more time and requiring the employee to come and override the issue. Meanwhile, the three people behind you with a box of cereal and milk are waiting. Not to mention most self-checkout kiosks only have two or three bag holders, meaning you aren’t going to have enough room for all your groceries so you take up still more time trying to figure out how to jockey empty and full bags around without making the computer and the sensor angry and stopping you again.

If you are full-fledge grocery shopping and have a cart full of items, it’s much more efficient to go to a regular cashier’s lane and have them scan them ten times faster and be bagged by the bag boy/girl. Often if there is no bagger I’ll start doing it to help the cashier and speed up the whole process, because you know, I’m a nice guy. So next time you’ve got a cart full of groceries and start heading to the self-checkout – don’t, because I’m going to be there stuck behind you giving you dirty looks.

Tuesday Tirade: Unsubscribing from online mailing lists

Remember that time you bought one thing from an online website, and now you get 4 million emails a day from them and their online partners. It’s exactly what you were hoping for, right? It doesn’t matter what website I use as an example because they all do it. Then there are the ones you get out of the blue because some idiot used your email to sign up for something (this is something I’ve been dealing with for years). Everyone hates this. It’s just barely above true spam – you know the emails you get telling you there are plenty of 30-somethings in your neighborhood just waiting for you to contact them…

But this barrage of emails isn’t what makes me the most angry. It’s unsubscribing from them. Sure, most give you a nice link at the bottom, usually is tiny letters, allowing you to update your preferences and discontinue their emails. But then you see this message:
Wait….WHAT?

How is this not instantaneous?
So, really what you’re telling me is an old lady sitting at a computer somewhere in a dank corner of your corporate headquarters watching a dot-matrix printer spit out email addresses of people who have asked to unsubscribe has to put down her knitting, hobbleold-lady-at-computer9 to the elevator and go down six floors, through a labyrinth fraught with dangerous and fantastical terrors, defeat the Troll King, to finally deliver a single sheet of paper with a single email address on it to the desk of another old lady sitting in front of another computer that does nothing but delete emails from subscription lists. This process must be repeated every single time an unsubscribe request is received. Right? Is that what happens? Of course not. Though that’d be really awesome. However it’s the only reasonable excuse I could see where it could take 10 business days (remember, don’t count the weekend!) to remove an email address from a mailing list.

No. There is nothing you could possibly say to me that makes me believe you do not have a script that runs this request automatically on your mail server or whatever program/interface that runs your mailing lists. I can communicate instantaneously via video with someone on the other side of the planet, or download an HD movie in less than five minutes, but it takes 10 whole business days to remove my email address from a mailing list. Right.

My guess is this is an excuse to allow them to continue sending emails within this 10-day window hoping you’ll reconsider and change your preferences back. But I don’t care. If I unsubscribe, don’t send me anything further. If I do change my mind, I’ll go back to your website on my own and sign up again.

Tuesday Tidings

In the spirit of the season there will be no tirade today. Instead I bring you tidings of comfort, joy, optimism, and other various Christmas related dogma. It is Christmas Eve, after all!

This is the first time in my entire life I have not been at home with my parents and family for Christmas. We’re sad we can’t make it back to Syracuse for the holidays but plane tickets are a little out of reach, and since the wife is no longer following an academic schedule (same for me) it’s harder to travel because we no longer have weeks off during the holiday seasons. And there is no way we’re driving from Houston to Syracuse as it would take about three days each way. But, we’re making the best of it! We’re going to have our own little Christmas down here in Houston; without the snow, without the cold.  We’re going to do some video chatting with my parents and Grandpa on Christmas day. I’m thinking maybe even open presents together via video chat on Christmas morning. Cheesy, but fun.

We’ve decorated our little apartment with some lights, and put up our little tree (picture above). Many other families in the complex have decorated outside with lights as well – I love seeing this kind of spirit at apartment complexes! Last year at our complex in Knoxville we were only one of about 5 apartments that decorated. Lots more this year here in Houston!

The wife and I have treated ourselves to new bikes for Christmas, as you’ve probably seen. Even the bikes will be getting Christmas presents, too. They’ve got some new pedals and water bottle cages coming! They don’t know it yet though – it’s a surprise. LEGO Santa may be making an appearance later today as well so stay tuned here for some photos. It’ll be weird with no snow but we’ll see what Santa can come up with.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.

Tuesday Tirade: Privacy, The NSA, and Cereal

Over the last few months the hot button political issue has been the revelation of the NSA listening to your phone calls. Ok, twodont-worry-cell-phone-tapping things come to mind:

1) Duh.

2) So what?

I’m am sick and tired of the American public sensationalizing everything. No thanks to the news media either. Oh, but Dan, you say, privacy! They’re invading my privacy! That’s wrong! It’s unconstitutional! What would George Washington think?! Get over it. Our first President lived in a very, very different time. Society was different. Government was different. Most importantly, technology and weapons were different.

Don’t whine about privacy when you’ve got so much personal information on your Facebook page. People are constantly posting photos of their kids, their vacations, their house. And some even go so far as to list their home address and phone number on their profile. And let’s not even get into how many people still click on phishing links in emails and have their identities stolen or their online accounts hacked. When you’re stupid enough to not use the internet correctly you don’t have any right to complain.

But my conversations are private!
Let me get this straight: you’re so bent out of shape because the NSA may listen to a recording of your conversation with your grandma about what to get grandpa for Christmas? Is it really that much of a problem the NSA now knows your wife wants you to pick up some Special K at the grocery store since you’re stopping for milk anyway? Think about the conversations you have in general. What super-private information are you offended the government now knows? Oh no. You have a UTI. Gasp! Your best friend’s sister is cheating on her boyfriend with his best friend’s sister’s brother. Wait, this isn’t new information – you read it on Facebook two hours ago.

Not to mention people are constantly talking on their cell phones, out loud, usually loud enough for anyone to hear, in front of dozens of people, everywhere. Sounds like privacy is really an issue for you.

Look, if the government listening to phone calls stops one single act of terrorism from overhearing people talking about an attack, then I don’t care if they listen to me say goodnight to my wife while she’s away on business.

And if you’re going to continue playing the offended idiot, then maybe you shouldn’t talk on the phone so much.

Tuesday Tirade: Greeting Cards

It’s the holiday season again. Since pre-Halloween mid-October there is just a rush of holiday hoopla right through the first few days of the new year in January. And if there is one constant in American holidays, aside from eating too much, drinking too much, and being absurdly materialistic, it’s that a lot of people are going to send you greeting cards – you’ll probably send a few yourself. Of course this isn’t limited to the holiday season. There are all sort of events during the year requiring us to journey to the local corner store and spend 15-30 minutes digging through various cards trying to find the right one.

Why does it take so long?

Because the greeting cards are just awful. I don’t know who writes these things, but, they’re absolute garbage. Hallmark, Shoebox, American Greetings – whatever company. Mother’s Day, birthdays, weddings, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes there is a cute picture or legitimately funny comic on the front, only to be ruined by the absolute worst pun or joke when you open it up. Usually though, there is a typically lame stock photo on the front with the afore mentioned horrible pun. These are trumped by the mushy cards – spouting some long-winded half-prayer of sentiment that actually reads like teenage-angsty emotional vomit. Gag. What’s even worse though are people who stand in the aisle flipping open every one of the cards that plays music, and laughing at it thinking it’s the most ingenious, hilarious thing ever.

The onslaught of cards facing you is daunting. You chuckle at a few but none really are what you’re looking for. In the end, you settle for one that’s slightly humorous and you leave. Of course, not before paying the $16.99 most cost these days. At least you don’t have to purchase the envelope separately (how long until that happens?).

I usually just go straight for the blank-inside 99¢ cards. Typically they have a good cover, and I can write what I want inside.

Tuesday Tirade: Side-to-side. Not up & down

You don’t have to be a photographer to take good photos. But you do need common sense. In this age of iPhones and S4s and Notes and whatever other smartphone you have, everyone is using their phone to take photos or videos of everything.

But 95% of you are doing it wrong.

This:
5-tips-for-taking-better-photos-with-your-iphone-1
is WRONG.

When taking a photo you should always hold the camera side-to-side, horizontal, in landscape mode (that should cover all the major terms).
This:
Take-Photos-With-iPhone-Camerais CORRECT.

In fact, if you do a google image search for “take iPhone photo,” almost every single picture that pops up shows people holding it sideways, like above, the right way. Here, let me google that for you.

Yes I realize in the heat of the moment you may not have your wits about you and you just pull out the phone and snap that quick pic of the bank robber, or the tornado, or your kid taking his first steps. But when you are consciously composing a shot, do the world a favor, and hold your phone the right way to take a photo with a normal landscape aspect ratio.

If you ever want to make a print, and that’s more possible these days with camera phones having such high megapixel counts, you’ll have a much better outcome if your photo was taken side-to-side. Because, let’s think about printed photos – aren’t they always wider than they are tall? Portrait type shots are made more tall than wide by the photographer literally turning the camera on its side to turn the photo on its side. And this is only done in certain circumstances. But guess what, when they print, they print sideways – you turn the picture to put it in a frame. Photos are in landscape by default. Turn your phone.

You know what’s worse? When people take video with their phone in the up & down position. Then do something like upload it Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 8.54.57 PMto youtube and when you watch it all you see is a skinny little strip of video down the middle surrounded by giant black boxes. This isn’t because you  took it on your phone – it’s because you did it wrong. Turn the phone sideways. Even our good friend Tom Bergeron on AFV tells you to do this if you want to submit a video!

So. Next time you go to snap a pic or take a video make sure you’re doing it right.

Tuesday Tirade: Non-stackable cans

We all have cupboards or pantries in our kitchens with some sort of canned goods. From beans, to soups, to tomatoes and vegetables canned goods are ubiquitous across the world. They’re quick and handy in a pinch. I know I’ve had my share of Spaghetti-Os – we all have. But there is a silent epidemic that has been plaguing store (and pantry) shelves for years: cans that don’t stack. You know what I’m talking about. And oft times it’s actually not a silent epidemic as the sounds of crashing cans and cooks screaming as they dive to catch them fill the kitchen.

Let’s look at this objectively:
99.9% of the time canned goods are going to be stacked. It doesn’t matter if it’s at home, in a retail setting, or in a four-star restaurant’s pantry. To conserve space and in order to increase supply as much as possible you need to make use of the available space. This clearly means things are going to get stacked.

We’ve all done it. You unload your grocery bags and start putting your canned goods away. Inevitably, one falls over off the top of another. Did you ever stop to think why? Of course you did. The slightest breeze made as you reached passed it made it topple. Or perhaps you did accidentally graze it with your forearm. Or maybe the can has a slight manufacturing defect in it’s shape so it didn’t sit straight – and your shelf is crooked. Who knows. But the main culprit? It’s because the bottoms of the cans aren’t all made to interlock with the tops of the cans. Which of course begs the question: Why aren’t ALL cans made stackable? You may think this a trivial thing, and you know how they say don’t sweat the small stuff. Well, the plethora of dented cans, crushed fingers, and throbbing toes may say otherwise.  Let’s take a look at some good cans, and some bad cans.

GOYA is a manufacturer of fantastically stacking cans. Look how nicely these two cans of beans stack with each other.
IMGP6743

Why so perfect? Because of this:
IMGP6744

You see that wonderful little lip on the bottom of the can? That sits inside the rim of the top of the can below it, making it a nice nesting set of cans. Now, they can be stacked 4 or 5 high before it becomes precarious. Trust me I know this because I worked at a drug store (think Walgreens) for about 7 years setting up displays like this.

Hunts however, is a maker of BAD cans. Observe these two small cans of tomato somethingerother:
IMGP6745
I had to veerrrryyy carefully maneuver those to be almost perfectly stacked. But you know the instant you apply an ounce of force to the top one this will happen:
IMGP6747
And then down it goes. Probably knocking over three other cans in the process – or rolling off the shelf and dropping onto the floor – possibly your foot. After all the cans are round and round things roll – especially when you don’t want them too. The tops and bottoms of these cans are manufactured and cut exactly the same. The only way to stack them is to play a dangerous Jenga-like game of lining up the narrow edges of the top and bottom – and that takes about three tries.

I don’t know about you, but this whole ordeal bothers the hell out of me.

We can put men on the moon, but we can’t make cans that stack. Go figure.