Friday, September 22, 2017

Cram it, Google

You know, I really wish software developers spend less time solving things that are issues only in their minds and focused more on staying the heck out of my business.

A case in point is an incident with Gmail’s web mail that occurred earlier this week. I replied to a friend’s email and hit Send. Up popped this little box:

I actually stared at it for several seconds, first in confusion and then in disbelief. It’s bad enough that when I refer to someone as a stud muffin in an email body the next thing I know is I’m seeing ads for muffins. But when one of Google’s algorithms steps in to “correct” my actions, that’s just going beyond the beyond.

I clicked OK to send anyway, but fear for the future of humanity.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

From a galaxy far, far away

Here’s something you may find amusing. I did, although I’m easily amused, tbh.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Girls just wanna compute

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) is the Coachella of women in tech. For three days in October, it is the place to join together as a legion of the XX-chromosome set to talk software (and, to some degree, hardware, but mostly software, since Grace Hopper is the mother of computing languages), to network and to be recruited to high-paying software development jobs. (At least, if you’re finishing up your university studies, or a recent grad.)

This year, I’m joining 17,999 of these women (and some men) in Orlando the first week in October, and I already have the Mother of All Spreadsheets trying to map out the sessions I really want to attend, in rank order, since there are multiple tracks running, and in at least one time slot I have 11 sessions on my wanna-see list.

I have to say that, for being the pre-eminent women-in-computing gathering (put on by the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), no slouch in the field), their conference registration process was…not to put too fine a point upon it, lame. The day general registration opened in July, the server behind the web site couldn’t handle the demand, and the whole day was a series of anguished tweets from women around the world trying to give their credit card details only to have the page freeze or crash. And all GHC support could do was tweet instructions to keep refreshing. There were would-be registrants refreshing the page for hours.

That to the contrary notwithstanding, even with 18,000 paid attendees, there were bound to be people left without a ticket. ABI/GHC understands that, and ticket holders had until 15 September, last Friday, to transfer their ticket(s) to someone else. After that, anyone showing up at the Orange County Conference Center to claim admission on someone else’s ticket is SOL. After all, there are any number of elements to associate with the name on the ticket, and the Celebration has a soft launch on 3 October.

So Twitter, the various Slack channels and the Facebook group were filled with plaintive requests for someone to sell their ticket, even offering to pay more than face value, which is against GHC rules. (At one point, someone on Reddit announced that, due to “changed family circumstances” s/he needed to sell a ticket to the highest bidder. Don’t know what came of that, since the posting was withdrawn after it became known on Slack.)

I thought the requests would dissipate after the deadline, but I was wrong. Viz., this series of posts on the Facebook group yesterday:

I do not know what it says about women in tech that they either can’t read the rules, or think they don’t apply to them, personally. To build good software, you need to be able to listen and work well with your team; if you want to be a cowboy, you’d better be a real coding star.

Or, maybe it says that tech is their place, after all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

For want of a nail

Y’all know how I find in Twitter an endless source of wonder and amusement. And not just from the actual, you know, wit (or lack thereof) found in the tweets.

I’ve noted how you don’t need to actually tweet to get thousands of followers; the validation of the dictum that on the Interwebz; no one knows you’re a dog, so you can call yourself a game-changing thought leader without anyone calling you out; and how the Twitterati think that sending you an obviously system-generated direct message inviting you to buy their products or services is a way of faking sincere engagement.

I also watch how people basically shoot themselves in the foot by rushing to tweet before they quite grasp all the rules, either social or technical.

A case in point is a woman who makes her living helping job seekers. I met her at a group in the Valley They Call Silicon, and she seems genuinely to want to share useful tips. But she makes a basic mistake in her tweets that throws up a hurdle to her target audience connecting with her or her advice.

Viz.: she jams the website address to the site(s) with information against her little teaser blurb. Doing that means the URL is not hot-linked, which means people can’t click on it and go to the site. They have to copy and paste it into a browser.

Now, you might think this is not an insurmountable obstacle, and you’d be right. But you’d also be ignoring the fact that people are lazy and they have a short attention span. A basic dictum of communication is that you don’t make your audience work any harder than absolutely necessary to get your message. Making them copy and paste the URL (and not overshoot in copying so you get a 404 result), instead of clicking, is working too hard in Webland.

I actually DM’d her a few months ago to point that out, but she didn’t acknowledge my message, and she continued shooting herself in the foot.

Yesterday I noticed that she’s also taken to blowing her hashtags by doing the same thing: the one here without a space before it does not show up in hashtag searches.

You know—it’s not that hard to tweet right, especially when she’s not bordering on the 140-charachter limit. It’s a pity that she won’t take on board a couple of simple corrections, both for her and for the people who could benefit from her help.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Gratitude Monday: domestic bliss

There is nothing like getting estimates from contractors to put one in one’s place. In the universe of plumbers, electricians and handymen, you are but a speck in the tail of an asteroid. This might explain why so many idiosyncrasies are to be found around my house.

Of course, it may also be that the previous owners were just too cheap to invest so much as $1.98 in upkeep.

However, having been here going past six months, I’ve started tackling some of the oddities. Which is to say, I’ve started getting quotes from electricians. And last week I had a team of them in to deal with the cockeyed wiring upstairs.

I am grateful to report that the ceiling light/fans in the back bedrooms are now operated via wall switches in the respective rooms, instead of both of them being controlled by a switch in the hall closet. And the hall bathroom fan is now on a switch separate from the light switch. So I can brush my teeth at night without having to listen to the bleeding fan.

The electricians were professional, polite and personable. I had a nice chat when time came to settle up—yes, of course credit cards okay; you want those miles, right? (Turns out he’d used one of his to buy an $8600 fishing boat and got something like $250 cash back. So then we chatted about fishing, and birds.) And then I was ready to move my sleeping arrangements to one of the back bedrooms, which overlook a bunch of greenery, as opposed to the master bedroom, which is smack on the cluster parking lot.

It turns out that some of the residents here, and their friends, are night crawlers; they use the parking lot as a gathering place, smoking and joking as late as midnight. Then there’s the woman across the way, who holds hours-long mobile phone conversations starting as early as 2200, but often going past 0230. She invariably puts her mobile phone on speaker so everyone can hear both sides of the call.

I’ve contacted the cluster president, and the condo management association, but no one wants to do anything about it. And repeatedly reminding the Night Crawlers under my window that these are all bedrooms only scatters them at the moment. The next night, or the next, they’re back. I don’t know why they don’t have these gatherings in their actual residences, but it doesn’t seem to occur to any of them that if their housemates don’t want this crap in their living room, neither do their neighbors.

Anyhow, on Saturday evening, friends showed up to move my rather cumbersome mattress and box spring—two guys took less than five minutes to do it. And that night I had the first night of unstressful sleep since about April, when the weather warmed up. Window open, just the crickets and other non-human night critters for a lullabye. And when I woke up, my view was of the birds at the feeders below me.

So today I’m grateful for competent electricians and strong friends, and for the expectation of good sleep.

Now—plumbers. I’ll need a plumber next.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reviewing the situation

Let’s close out the week with a little something from Twitter.

I’ve written before about Twitter ads—so-called “promoted tweets” that appear indiscriminately in your feed. As with their counterparts on web pages, I usually don’t bother to register what they’re advertising as I click through to block the advertiser.

But very occasionally I’ll take a look at how others among the twitterati respond. This time it was some lame outfit calling itself ReviewInc.

Since they’ve had an account for five years and still haven’t struck 1000 tweets, they pretty much scream “low rent”, as do the actual tweets in their feed. My guess is that business is not booming, so they thought they’d go for a promotion.

You can see the very loose grasp of the whole social media “engagement” thing in these two telling exchanges:

I personally would not make ReviewInc my first point of contact when it comes to reputation management.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Favoring winds

As you know, I like what artists refer to as objets trouvés—things I spot around me, wherever I happen to be. And a while ago I spotted this on the mean streets of NoVa:

Now, HMS Hood (in her last incarnation) was the last cruiser built for the Royal Navy (commissioned in 1920), which was sunk in the Denmark Strait in May 1941 while in pursuit of the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and battleship Bismarck. There were three survivors; 1415 men went down with Hood.

WRT this particular vanity plate, I kind of wondered about the connection—was it a naval history buff? The small badge decal is indicative of something closer:

That’s Hood’s badge (Ventis secundis, “with favorable winds”, was her motto), so I’m thinking that the driver is related to someone who might have served on her at some point.

Or—and I suppose one has to consider this, in these days of stolen valor—someone who’d like people to think so.

Nah—I’m going with the relative.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Some time ago PBS ran a program on White House staff, and how they work as an integral team with the President and First Family. (This was pre Klepto, so I’m guessing that it’s not quite the same since 19 January. He has, after all, famously referred to the White House as a dump.)

It was fascinating, actually, because it’s rather like the crew of a naval vessel—frigate maybe. Everyone working hand-in-glove with everyone else, perfectly synchronized.

This one clip, of Jacqueline Kennedy in a receiving line, demonstrates this. Check the handoff at the end.


Man, I love it when a good plan comes together.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

When horses fly

Quick one today—this came across my Twitter feed, and tickled my fancy, as it did the poster and many of those who commented on it.

It illustrates the push-pull that goes on in technological advances, particularly in institutions like the military. Nothing ever progresses in a straight line, there’s thrust, pushback, feint…kind of like dialectical materialism.

Anyway, you can see Colonel Hoffman’s point, can’t you?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Gratitude Monday: ordinary miracles

Man—this one’s a tough Gratitude Monday: sixteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and Irma still a force across the South, after causing catastrophic devastation in the Caribbean. It’s hard for me to grasp the destruction I’ve seen in the photos and video of places like Saint Martin and Puerto Rico. It’s as though enormous monsters stamped across the islands, flattening everything in their path. Maybe even going back to stamp some more.

Or, it’s like photos and video of parts of Europe in 1945.

And WRT 9/11: over the weekend I was contemplating the numbers of deaths that have flowed from those attacks and the wars that are still going on—proximate and collateral, military and civilian; American, Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian—and the destabilization off the entire region, which triggered the refugee crisis the likes of which we have not seen since 1945. What would the Requiem Mass for those hundreds of thousands look like? How long would it go on?

What if we had to name each name, and pass round a photo of each one? How long would that litany take to recite?

Well, but today is about gratitude. So, while holding the welfare of all those in the paths of storms (manmade or natural) in my heart, I am grateful that in my tiny portion of the world, I can have my patio door open to listen to the birds. The worst that immediate nature can do to me manifests itself in the mosquitos that come after me when I dash out to replenish the bird feeders. No chance of gale winds smashing the glass, or torrential rains seeping into my house.

I have working electricity, even if the wiring schema is straight out of Dalí. Potable drinking water is available every time I turn on the tap. My refrigerator is well stocked, but if it weren’t, I could walk to the two nearest grocery stores to me, and drive to about four others within two miles. I’m employed, so I can afford to buy gasoline and to make repairs to my car (even though I find that latter expenditure for some reason really, really annoying).

I am employed, in a job that contributes something meaningful to an organization that contributes something meaningful to the world. I have library cards for four systems in Northern Virginia (have not got around to getting one from D.C.), plus I still have access to the six systems in the Valley They Call Silicon, which provides me a wealth of information, entertainment and curiosity-satisfaction. I’ve got Internet connectivity in case I want to expand my understanding of present-day crackpottery and douchebaggery.

And my network of friends sustains me, enriches me, invigorates me and frankly, at times, just keeps me going.

So these are the things for which I am grateful. In the face of historical and present-day reminders of the burdens of sorrow, grief and dejection that today represents, I hope that those affected by these disasters find things—no matter how small—that will evoke a sense of thanksgiving.