Saturday, May 23, 2009

More Parent-Teen Hysteria

I remember when I was in high school, the local sheriff circulated some papers that were supposedly signs for parents to watch for, indicating that their children were involved in satanism (this was in the late 80's when that was the paranoia of the moment). A buddy of mine and I sat in the back of our English class laughing our heads off (and seriously disrupting class, which was one of the signs on the list) at this ridiculous attempt by an out-of-touch adult to try and categorize the behavior of teenagers. We went through the list and checked off everything that applied to us and determined that, according to the sheriff, my buddy and I were both die-hard satanists. Of course, we weren't any such thing and weren't the least bit interested in being such, but that's what you get when someone claims to understand something but really doesn't have a clue.
That list, at least, was a list of real things. It was a remarkably convoluted list of pretty much everything (the symbols it listed included everything from the peace sign and eternity knot to pentacles and goat skulls, and the behavior list included just about every teen misbehavior possibility you could think of) and, because it lumped everything together, it meant absolutely nothing, but the borderline reality of it still put it ahead of the more modern list I just read.
There is a place online called Netlingo that claims to translate internet speech and shorthand for those less in the know. The site has a pair of lists, Top 50 Internet Acronyms Parents Need to Know and Top 50 More Acronyms Every Parent Should Know, that are pretty much the modern equivalent of that anti-satanism list from my high school days. According to founder Erin Jansen, "This is stuff that's being used all across the Internet" but if you show this list to your teenagers, you're going to get nothing but blank looks and laughter.
Some stuff, the easy stuff, the list does get right. Things like BRB and LOL are so universal (and have been universal for so long) that they really do not even require translations anymore. I can think of a few other abbreviations that, while fairly common, are not quite as common and so might require translation. It is also true that there are a number of sexual conversation abbreviations that might not be known to those who are not familiar with those chat environments in the first place. This list, however, is garbage. It combines just enough real (and mostly innocuous) terms with some very outdated geekspeak terms (1337, for example, is old school geekspeak code for elite, but it is hardly ever used anymore and I doubt many teenagers today would have any idea what you were saying if you used it) and then spices things up with terms that are, quite simply, made up out of whole cloth.
Let me give you a clue (and an example). Internet shorthand terms are just that - shorthand, abbreviations, simplifying codes. They are things that let you use three letters (BRB) instead of a longer phrase (be right back) for commonly used expressions. They occasionally let you say something (420) without coming right out and saying it (marijuana), but that is much less common. What they do not do is set up a complicated new language base that you would actually have to learn before you could use. No one in their right mind is going to use something as long and cumbersome as AWGTHTGTTA (Are We Going To Have To Go Through This Again) when something simple and more direct ("???", perhaps or, "WTF" maybe) is available. It not only doesn't make sense, it's too much work. It is too much for multiple people to have to memorize and assume that others have memorized. Teens often speak their own language anyway. Something like this would just be a useless add on.
As for the parent alerts (things like CD9 = "parents around" or P911 = "parent alert"), I'm not going to say they don't exist, but I can say I've never seen them. As someone who has been online for 12 years, more or less, has been through more chatrooms than most people know exist, has logged countless hours on dozens of MMO's, and is currently a thriving participant in what might be the largest chatroom ever conceived (Second Life), I'd say the fact that I've never seen these codes actually means something. They might exist and they might be used, but they are nowhere near as common as the creator of this list would like parents to believe.
I'll leave you with another quote that should bomb these ridiculous lists out of existence:
"There are spikes in the amount of usage for each acronym, and regional variations," she adds. "Something that's being used on the West Coast, for example, won't be in the East, and the South may use terms that aren't common in the Pacific Northwest. And the Midwest is just a hotbed of this sex chat-room stuff."
Regional variations in an online environment that knows almost nothing of regional separations? I don't know about you, but this doesn't sound like any kind of internet expert to me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Legitimate Kneebreakers

If you have ever had to change your phone number in the last decade or so (which I did several months ago) you have no doubt had to put up with phone call after phone call from collection agencies looking for someone who is not you. In my personal case, the person whose calls I keep receiving apparently owes every single collection agency in the Pacific Northwest. At least, that's the impression I get when they swear that no one from their company has ever called before when I tell them again that I don't know anyone by that name and want my number removed from their list. The fact that someone is lying is painfully obvious, but getting these thugs to play by anything resembling rules is more than a little difficult.
Yes, that's right. I said "thugs". That's what they are. Don't get me wrong. Someone who is owed money does have a right to get paid and, when their is a legitimate debt, they have a right to bring in outside help in their attempt to get paid. The help that gets used these days, however, is only half a step removed from the extortionists in those old gangster movies who would employ washed up boxers to break a few kneecaps when someone was slow with a payment. They are rude, brutal, and inconsiderate and they don't even care whether or not you are the person they are actually trying to reach.
How do I know they don't care? Because finding the right person in this electronic age is so easy a child could do it. Most people who owe a debt aren't hiding out under assumed names in dingy basements. Sure, those people exist, but they are the exception, not the rule. Most people who owe a debt are regular people living in regular places and working regular jobs. They leave a paper and electronic trail three miles wide to everything they do and most of that trail is a part of the public record. There's this magic thing called Google. Give it a shot.
My point is, these collection agencies are legally empowered to go after people who owe someone money and they have the information they need to find that person. In most cases, the collection agency has a social security number, a date of birth, last known phone number, last known address, and last know place of employment. With half of that information, I could find almost anyone in the country in roughly ten minutes, and I don't have a paid staff. Why can't they do this instead of routinely harassing people who have nothing to do with the debt they are looking to collect?
There is a lot of talk these days about protecting people from predatory lenders and credit card companies and blah blah blah, but what about these extortionists who don't even limit their bad behavior to people actually connected with their "service"?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Truth In Advertising

I listen to the radio all day at work and, like most people, I find commercials to be mostly annoying. They're rarely amusing anymore and they are often completely ridiculous. There is one thing that really gets me, though. Didn't we used to have such a thing as truth in advertising laws?
One commercial I hear often is from something called Clean PC Nation. It is a web-based anti-viral and computer optimization source. Being web-based, I assume it is at least national, so you may have heard the commercials as well. Part of the commercial mentions that such things as pop-ups and spam are "tell-tale signs of a virus". Huh? Speaking as an A+ certified IT Technician who deals with anti-viral and optimization situations all the time, this claim is not just misleading, it is a bald faced lie. The only things that pop-ups and spam are "tell-tale sign[s] of" are that you spend time on the internet and have an email address.
It is true that pop-ups and spam can be symptoms of a virus, but no self-respecting computer security specialist would go that route first based on those two criteria. Pop-ups and spam are so common a component of online activity, they are practically an integral component of the internet as it currently exists. Personally, I'd be more inclined to worry if you were not seeing pop-ups or spam.
Pop-ups might be indicative of a virus if they are behaving in an unusual manner. For example, if they will not close, if they take you to a location other than what they advertise (Though, why are you clicking on a pop-up in the first place? Don't reward that behavior!), if they are popping up when you do not have a web browser running. These are all possibly troubling behavior. If you have a good pop-up blocker (and for that matter, the one that comes built in to most browsers is usually just as good as or better than any after-market blocker) and are still seeing a high number of pop-ups (keeping in mind that no blocker is 100% reliable) then you might have a problem. Aside from possibilities like these, pop-ups are just pop-ups and they are coded into most websites out there.
Spam is a little more tricky because spam can contain a virus, but that is not the same thing as being a symptom of a virus. If spam is resulting from a virus, the person with the virus will probably not see the spam. Spam's usual connection to viral activity is that a virus takes over a computer (or parts of a computer) and uses it to send spam elsewhere. It is unlikely that a virus would advertise its presence by flooding the infected account with spam. Aside from this, the vast majority of people today use web-based email (I have several email addresses and everyone of them is web-based) and a virus on your computer will hardly ever have any effect on an email account that is actually located on a different computer, probably even in a different state. The virus might prevent you from getting to your web-based email account, but it is not very likely to spam that account.
One statement this commercial makes that actually is completely true and that not enough people realize is the fact that, even if you have anti-viral software on your computer, you are still at risk for a virus. Let me amplify that by pointing out that the risk exists no matter how good an anti-viral program you have is. A good anti-viral program decreases the risk (and safe behavior online decreases it even further) but nothing can remove it completely. The bad guys are putting out new code and trying new tricks constantly and it is just not possible for even the best defense to stay completely ahead of the game. You do the best you can and you don't take foolish risks.
I have not personally checked out Clean PC Nation and I do not make any claims as to their service. According to reviews I have seen, they do get good marks for the work they do. Their method of advertising, however, both offends and concerns me. The company behind this commercial knows perfectly well that their claims are false and also knows that the average computer consumer does not know this. That is offensive. What concerns me, though, is a simple question: If they will commit this kind of deception to get your business, how far will they go to keep or increase your business?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stupid People Saying Stupid Things

I don't often make two posts in one day but I had to file a quick Stupid People complaint. I was just reading an article on some movie casting that interests me and had to comment on the comments.
Chris Hemsworth, who plays George Kirk in J.J. Abram's current Star Trek hit, has apparently been cast in the lead role for the upcoming Thor movie (based on the Marvel comics of the same name and part of the ongoing Avengers series of movies) and he has also been cast as Jed Eckert in the upcoming remake of Red Dawn (the character originally portrayed by Patrick Swayze). I'm not a huge comics Thor fan but I am very interested in what they are doing with the Avengers movies (and I've been very pleased with what they have done so far). I am also a big fan of the original Red Dawn (I don't care how cheesy people think it is in modern context - it wasn't made in modern context) and Patrick Swayze was my favorite in that movie. I'm unsure how a modern remake would work, but I'm willing to wait and see.
So then I get to the comments section and find two commenters saying essentially the same thing. One comment says, "Boring casting choice - very american" (sic) while the other says, "Can you say alpha male American stereotype a little louder." (sic)
First of all, when did American become a pejorative? Are these elitists unaware of the fact that American movies are often the most popular movies around the world, not just in America? That would seem to imply that being American might actually be a good thing.
Second, the actor in question isn't even American. He is Australian, which the article very clearly states. Now I'll grant you that it might make a bit more sense to cast someone Nordic to portray a Norse god, but when has that ever mattered in movie casting? To describe this as American casting, however, is bound to put a few Australians up in arms.
Finally - and most importantly, to my way of thinking - how is "alpha male" even a complaint here? Is the commenter the least bit familiar with the characters in question? We're talking about the Norse god of thunder and a redneck big brother who leads a group of teenagers in a fight against invading forces. Can you get any more alpha male than these character descriptions themselves? Seriously, if the concept of alpha male offends you then these are not movies you should be looking at in the first place.
I'm convinced that people who comment on these movie sites just love to see their complaints in print, but why would you advertise stupidity? I don't understand.

The Hysteria Continues

In 2002, I created a fictional character for the purpose of commenting on governmental excess and hysteria in regards to national security during a time when any such comments made overtly were almost a lynching offense. It was my fear then that legitimate concerns about security and terrorism could translate to illegitimate attempts to deprive American citizens of their rights, using exaggerated security statements to prevent anyone from mounting serious opposition. Seven years later, it seems that not much has changed.
Representative Peter King, R-NY, has introduced a bill, dubbed The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009, that would authorize the Attorney General to deny gun sales to known or suspected terrorists. Note the italics in the previous sentence and then tell me if you don't think the representative in question has an amazingly appropriate name.
The Supreme Court gave a ruling last year which confirmed what many of us already knew, that gun ownership is an individual right not bound exclusively to any military or militia service. That being the case, how do we justify the removal of a right based on nothing more than a suspicion? We don't! It is in violation of everything America stands for. This is not Philip K. Dick's The Minority Report. We do not enforce legal sanctions based on suspicions. At least in Dick's story the Powers That Be claimed to have some infallible method of equating suspicion with act. We don't even have that. We have Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security releasing watch lists that equate anyone they don't like with suspicion of terrorism.
It is worth pointing out that, in The Minority Report, the Powers That Be were wrong. That was, in fact, the whole point of the story and the reason for the title. [You'll have to read the story for yourself, or at least watch the movie, which does give a decent version.] Despite their supposedly infallible method, they were making mistakes and punishing people without cause. How much worse would it be when we don't even claim to have such a method?
I'm not even going to jump off the paranoid springboard here and claim that this is a backdoor attempt to remove firearms from American citizens. It is unarguably the case that such a law could be used for that purpose and should be argued for that reason even if no other, but I don't think that is the actual intent here. The intent seems to me to be nothing more than is stated, preventing terrorists from acquiring guns. Good intent, however, does not excuse lousy implementation. This bill would do no more to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys than any other law has done and it would go a long way toward making things difficult to impossible for people who have not earned any such restrictions.
I understand the ideas and I understand the fears, but laws should not be about ideas or fears. They should be about results, and the only results a law like this can produce are such that everything in the American spirit should be rebelling against. There is no A for Effort in government. You either succeed or you fail and this bill has abysmal failure stamped all over it. If Representative King truly wants to keep Americans safe, he needs to go back to the drawing board and try again.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The 10 Commandments Of Me

I've been a bit absent here lately and the only excuse I can offer is that I have been busy. As I have said numerous times before, the paying job must come first. Things in that arena are starting to balance out again so, hopefully, I will have more time to pay attention to this one in a manner I would prefer.
I have noticed from my comments and emails that I am gaining readers here that I did not have before (another reason I would like to be able to pay more attention to this project) and so I thought I would take some time to give a little more insight into me and how I think. I have an entire series if posts that I have planned to do in that regard but, of course, they require time to do them properly. The posts I do on a regular basis do give a good amount of insight but they can also give an unbalanced view if one does not fully understand the context. For example, the sheer number of anti-Left or anti-liberal (whichever you prefer - I have stated my preference many times) posts I make might confuse someone who does not know better into believing that I align myself with the Right or with conservative thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I can be very conservative in some areas, I am also very progressive in other areas. My personal litmus test is not conservative versus liberal but rather what works and does not work in the context of conforming to reality and living a good and free life. I am neither Republican nor Democrat and, in truth, I have no use whatsoever for either party.
To improve the readers' understanding of this writer's point of view, I have put together a list of the iron-clad rules by which I run my own life. I have jokingly referred to them as The 10 Commandments of Me but that is mostly for the artistic purpose of having a catchy headline. In truth, there is a lot of overlap in this list and I had to sit down with a pen and paper to actually think out the separate entires in the list because I do not consciously think of all of them in this way. Still, they are all rules that are very important to me and that I put a great deal of effort into never breaking.
Due to my desire to not put you, the reader, through book-length entries in any one post, I will give only a short description of each rule here. I will expand on these rules as I feel the need (and have the time) in later posts. Of course, and as always, if there is any confusion, just leave a comment stating so and that will certainly point me in a direction of where clarification is necessary.
And now, the list.
1. Mind Your Own Business
I cannot state emphatically enough how intentional it is that I list this rule first. I firmly believe that most of my problems with politics and society at large would vanish if more people lived by this ideal. You have no business trying to control someone else's life if what they are doing or not doing cannot cause harm to you or yours. It just doesn't make sense. This isn't to say that you should require only direct affects before you become involved, but logical extensions should be necessary. If someone in Mississippi were stalking and assaulting bloggers it would have no direct affect on me because I am not in Mississippi, but I can certainly (and logically) decide that not speaking against such behavior would set a precedent that could have disastrous results for me. Yes, such a nuanced understanding of this rule requires some complex thought, but isn't complex thought supposed to be one of those things that defines being human?
2. Be Responsible
Most people will only see the negative statement of the first rule - stay out if it doesn't involve you - but there is a positive statement as well: if it does involve you, you have a moral obligation to do something about it. Know your responsibilities and fulfill them. Of course, if more people lived by this rule, they wouldn't have time to break the first one.
3. Do What Must Be Done
Most people don't like going to work, but we prefer it to the alternative of being homeless and starving. If something has to be done, then do it. Don't equivocate; don't sit around waiting for someone else to do it; and certainly don't pontificate on the right or wrong of it. If it actually must be done then it must be right to do it. Of course, this requires that complex thought again in order to truly define "must" but, welcome to being human.
4. Do Not Fake Reality
You will never accomplish any of the complex thoughts required by these rules if you make a habit of pretending that reality is something other than what it is. Reality will not conform to your whims or desires. It will go on being reality and steamroller right over your best (or worst) intentions if you try to behave otherwise.
5. Words Have Meaning
I have used this phrase often enough that I thought it would be counterproductive to reword the phrase to make it a command. The command is implied in the statement. If words have meaning then you must know what they mean and mean what you say. The purpose of language is to reveal and clarify, not to obfuscate and distort. If you use words in a false or misleading manner then you are either faking reality or trying to get someone else to fake reality. The end result is the same either way: things get worse instead of better because reality wins every time.
6. Learn From Mistakes
No one is perfect. This is a true statement but it is also the most over-used excuse in the human bag of tricks. You are going to make mistakes but if you keep making the same mistake over and over again, it is no longer a mistake. It then becomes intentional behavior and quite possibly a sign of insanity (repeating the same behavior expecting different results is a clinical definition of insanity). Learn from your mistakes and try to not make the same mistake twice. That is how you get better.
7. Do Not Reward Failure
I am stating this one in the negative because most of us grasp the positive. We understand that it is a good thing to hand out gold stars to those who do well. What we do not seem to understand, however, is that handing out gold stars to those who do poorly just encourages them to not correct their mistakes. There is a place for both positive and negative reinforcement and we would do well to remember that.
8. Make No Demands You Have Not Earned
We have become an entitlement society. We vilify the person who demands what he has earned and pity the person who demands what has not been earned. How does this make sense?
9. Treat Others As They Deserve
I'm not quite nice enough to use the tired old "treat others as you want to be treated". I believe that the old adage is a great starting point, but it is not always a great ending point. I try my best to do my best and want (even expect) to be treated accordingly. If, however, I treat every person I meet as though he or she is doing the same then I am, in fact, often rewarding failure. There are far too many people out there who do not make the effort and do not deserve to be treated as though they were. If you want to be treated well, though, it is usually a good idea to err on the side of treating well. Remember that you do not know everything and it is often easier to correct a positive mistake than to correct a negative mistake.
10. Live Your Life!!
You might notice that this is the only rule I bothered to punctuate. It is your life to live, not your neighbor's, not your father's, not the city council's, etc. If you are not living your life then what are you accomplishing? The rest of this list becomes pretty useless without this final statement.

I realize that many of these descriptions are pretty vague but I hope I have at least gotten the basic point across. And, as I said at the beginning, I am certainly willing to clarify where necessary. This list isn't perfect by any means, but it gives you an idea of what is important to me and that gives you an idea of where I am coming from when I write what I write. The point of language is to reveal and clarify, so I occasionally step out of my normal commenting structure in an attempt to do just that. Expect more clarifications as we move forward.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

RIP Dom DeLuise

The world lost one of its funniest men yesterday when Dom DeLuise passed away in his sleep at around 6:00PM. Best known for his roles in Blazing Saddles and (my personal favorite) Cannonball Run, DeLuise has battled problems with his weight and health for years. It seems to me, however, that he gave it a good fight and enjoyed the trip the whole way. DeLuise was 75 years old and left behind some good memories, good friends, and family who will no doubt miss his laugh. Rest in peace, Dom.