Friday, March 8, 2013

If Not Now--When?

I'm going to keep this short, but this has been floating in my head for months and I'm tired of thinking about it.

I sympathize with the tea-party people, at least the original ones who were interested in deficit reduction (the social-conservatives who are trying to take it over can get bent). Namely I'm interested in eliminating the deficit and the debt.

I keep reading and hearing how this is the wrong time to do it; we should follow FDR's New Deal and spend spend spend. So the deficit goes up and the debt goes up. We can repay it later when times are flush.

Really? Well, no. We won't. Except for that short term during the 2nd Clinton administration, there's a deficit every year and there's always some reason to keep the taps open regardless of feast or famine, regardless of which party controls Congress (because it was under W. Bush's united government that started deficit spending again).

What will happen is this: the economy will improve and the government will be flush with tax revenue again. But instead of ending the deficit, they'll just ramp up spending. All those lean years leads to pent-up demand. Every department and group that had a budget cut or a freeze or slow-down is coming to come up and say, "we suffered during the lean times, so now it's time to repay us." They have a point. If not now--when?

But the same will happen for projects, improvements, new construction, research and grants, and pork projects of all types. They'll all want to be funded and this will be the time to do it--while the money is flowing.

So Congress and the deficit deniers say, "we'll grow our way out of it," which is fine except that we never seem to grow faster than we spend. There's always a need to spend more money to encourage growth.

Or another favorite--we'll simply devalue the dollar, but that has all kinds of repercussions; plus you can only do it sustainably in small doses; the governments who do it on a large scale end up bankrupt and with disasterous credit ratings, which drives up borrowing costs, aggravates inflation, and ultimately screws over their own people, who they are allegedly trying to help and protect.

This is the time to cut the deficit.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

How I Work

I recently discovered Lifehacker's How I Work series. Since they're never going to ask, I'll just have to do it myself.

It also helps that they rely heavily on an out-of-the-box questionaire.

Occupation: One of the carbon blobs in Sector 7G
Location:By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea...
Current computer:an HP Pavillion Elite HPE alphabet soup desktop
Current mobile devices: a crappy Siemens cellphone
One word that best describes how I work: recalcitrant

What's your best time-saving trick?
Seriously overestimate the amount of time it takes to do anything.

What's apps/software/tools can't you live without?
I love Microsoft Acess and Excel, though I think they peaked at 2000 and it's been downhill ever since. That said, even Excel 2010 is still better than any other spreadsheet that I've tried; It'll take MS another couple iterations at least to ruin it completely.

For radio/electronics stuff, I've got a nice middle-tier Harbor Freight DMM that works surprisingly well for its relatively low cost; a couple of old test instruments that work well considering they're older than I am; and I've got a big 1/2-inch drive socket driver that makes as a beat-down tool for anything that needs to be seriously whapped. Oh yeah, and my Swiss Army knife.

What's your workspace setup like?
I have three. At my joe-job I've got the usual, or at least what was usual before cubes really took over: an old steelcase desk, a steel file cabinet, a small table and a bookcase. At home I've got the computer area (where I am right now) which is a big table with the computer stuff, and the rest of the house as support. In the garage I've got the classic technican's workbench: a normal wood bench top with a shelf above it where the electronic gear sits.

What do you listen to while you work?
The photo above really rings true for me. If I'm just cruising I'll listen to talk/news radio or a spoken-word podcast; if I really have to buckle down and concentrate, I pick a song that I know will work from past experience, set it on an endless loop, and go into almost a zen state with it. The music blurs into something like white-noise and allows me to close out the rest of the world.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
Avoiding dreary smalltalk. I hate it, and I know many people who do it, also loathe it, but feel like they have to do it to be polite. I disagree—I think I can be polite without it. But it could also be why I don't have many friends.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs. (Henry Ford)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

An $800 Value, Now Yours for Only $19.95 plus S/H

I would have put this up for Xmas if I'd thought of it.

I'm not much of a gadget person.  I like them if they're truly useful but most aren't.  They seem like they either solve problems that don't exist or they do something that's done just as easily by something more convenient, like a pocket knife.

That said, here are some things that I want.  If they already exist, I haven't seen them.

  • A Post-it Note pad with a magnet glued on the back that I can stick on the refrigerator door. I've got several note pads scattered about the house and I can never find one when I want it. Even keeping one in a kitchen drawer doesn't work. They move and hide faster than cockroaches.
  • A remote garage door lock. When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood where most people didn't have automatic openers, so garage doors were locked (usually with a padlock). These days I doubt anyone can even imagine a door without a Genie. But that also means the locks have disappeared.

    The only thing keeping people out of garages now is trying to lift the door that's being held down by the automatic door opener (assuming that another garage access door, if there is one, is properly secured). If you can overcome the door opener, or better yet, trick the door opener into opening the door for you, then you're golden. Since many of us have keypads located mounted outside where anybody can walk up and try their hand at codebreaker, this makes me nervous.

    When I'm gone overnight or longer, I can lock the door in place so it physically can't move. But it's too inconvenient to use for shorter trips away (like to work or the store) or even overnight.

    What I want is a remotely controlled lock, something a burglar wouldn't know about, that would have to unlock first before the door opener would run. It would run independently of the regular remote so that even if someone stole my remote or broke my keypad code, he still couldn't get in.

  • Stick-on wireless cameras. Make magazine ran an article or two about people who would take an LED, solder it on onto a calculator battery and a small magnet and make these little lights that could be tossed and stick on various thing (i.e. anything that a magnet would stick to). LEDs and batteries are cheap, so once they die, no big deal.

    I want a wireless camera that works the same way. It's very small, runs for a reasonable amount of time on a battery, and has a magnet. You stick it on something, "tune" to its channel, and you have wireless surveilance. I'd love to stick these on various parts of my house.

    These things probably already exist and I don't know about it. Okay—put that on an infomercial that runs 25 times a day.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I Want More of This

You'll have to click the photo above to make it work and see what I'm talking about (warning: NSFW).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Better Off Forgotten

I was around 10 years old when The Invisible Man ran briefly on NBC. I saw them first-run and loved the show. And then it was cancelled and disappeared into the ether.

I remembered it all these years, hoping it would come back on the old Sci Fi channel or TVLand or something, the way obscure tv shows occasionally do. It hasn't. Then I recently saw that it came out on DVD. I was floored. Was it as good as I remembered, or was going to be Temperature's Rising?

Netflix didn't have it (not on my by-mail option) so I went ahead and bought it. It's the full series, eleven episodes (ten plus the pilot movie) and — ugh. It wasn't Temperature's Rising, but was a lot less than what I had expected.

The story line is this: Dr. Dan Weston and his wife Dr. Kate Weston work for a DARPA-like think-tank, and their project is invisibility. Dr. Weston is brilliant but of course this is entertainment, so Weston decides to skip all those pesky intermediate steps and ethics and tries it on himself, and of course, even though it worked fine on rats and bunnies, for some reason it's permament on him.

Long story short (i.e. most of the pilot), the think tank makes a deal with the Westons: they gets to continue to use the lab to research a reversal for Dan's invisibility, and they pay off the time by doing freelance jobs by people who need special services. Weston's invisiblity is secret, so the work falls under an aegis called The Klae Resource (Klae being the name of the think-tank). So people hire the use of The Klae Resource without really knowing what it is.

It's a decent-enough premise for an action/adventure show. But—damn, it's not what I remembered. Now I'm old enough to see the obvious plot holes; the razor-think characters; villians who desparately need a long handle-bar moustache to twirl.

I feel betrayed by my memory and I'm angry at the show for not being better. I don't think that's unreasonable: so many of the episodes just look lazy, as if they'd put all their energy into the special effects (which are often clever) and had nothing left for the scripts.

Worst of all are the three main characters. They're cyphers: they have no backstory outside what we see on the show; they have no real flaws or features that make them interesting. Dr. Weston is almost entirely humorless and colorless (pun not intended but I'll take it); Walter Carlson, except for a single episode when he's actually given something to do, could have been performed perfectly well by a garden gnome. Only Melinda Fee gets to show any real range of emotion and given interesting things to do, and yet her character is as unknown and malleable as any.

Cyphers worked fine for Mission: Impossible where the characters (except for Peter Lupus) played parts every week. But M:I made up for it with intricate plots. The Invisible Man's plots are typically weak, bordering on lame. A couple are decent but most are tiresome retreads of the spy genre: contact the prisoner, break the defector out, steal the McGuffin.

It's not dumb like color Lost in Spaces were dumb, but it was amazing the thought, or lack thereof, that went into some of the stories. The one that really made my jaw drop: a US senator visits a psychic for seances to contact his dead wife. A government agency hires The Klae Resource to put an end to it because the senator is possibly being manipulated by the psychic to vote against a particular bill. So basically, the government is hiring The Klae Resource because a Senator is voting the wrong way.

Nobody sees any problem with this. Carlson and the Westons both want the bill passed.

After the first or second episode, it appears everyone and his dog knows about The Klae Resource even if they don't know what it is, and even that little secret leaks out at an alarming rate. If they show had gone on another year, The Klae Resource might have been parodied on Saturday Night Live.

It could have been better; it should have been better. It couldn't have been that difficult.

So I can't relieve my childhood love of this show. I'm too old to enjoy the stories, but I'm old enough now to appreciate Melinda Fee.

Friday, December 21, 2012

E) Kiss My Ass

I used to like being surveyed. I figured almost anyone could benefit from my advice. Now I'm older and I figure other people care about my thoughts and opinions about as much as I do theirs (i.e. none).

One of the big business fads going around now is the idea of surveying customers to get actual feedback on satisfaction. Business fads are like almost any idea-set that crosses into the mainstream; a few facts are correct but the concepts behind them are usually lost. So many firms will poll their customers to gather data which will be

a) presented in such a way to produce a predetermined outcome
b) misinterpreted to produce a predetermined outcome
c) ignored
d) any of the above, depending on which level of management prepares the report

Lately I've been seeing these surveys pop up more and more on websites I visit. It started out at check-out with an invitation to take a follow-up survey. Now I see them showing up as soon as I hit the web page before I've done anything.

It wouldn't be so bad if they were unobtrusive, but many are now using the same annoying tactics as the advertising I hate the most: pop-ups, pop-unders, or the worst: the animated thing that rolls across the middle of what I'm trying to read.

Worst of all: some aren't even satisfaction surveys. I clicked on one I believe to be a thinly-disguised advertisement from my current favorite company, Microsoft.

For awhile I just ignored them, but now I'm actively embracing them. I'll click on any survey offered figuring it's my turn to pee in their Wheaties for a change. And I invite everyone else to do the same.

When I am offered an annoying survey to take, I now:

A) choose answers at random, as long as they aren't accurate

B) coordinate a set of answers that are consistant but completely inaccurate (for the Microsoft survey--yes, I'm the CIO of a firm that's excited about their latest product!!!)

C) choose a set of answers to explain how deeply dissatisfied I am with the product or service

One way to approach this, if it's an in-depth survey, is to create a persona for yourself and look at it as an acting job. Back when some on-line sites used to demand demographic information before they'd let you in, I was an elderly woman from Andorra (that's a tiny country between France and Spain). An alternative is simply to be your favorite celebrity. I use one for sites that want to know my birthday, location, and so forth.

What do you think of this plan?

A) don't care
B) disinterested
C) apathetic

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I Am Done with Microsoft

I say this as I type this on a Win 7 computer using IE 9 (don't ask why I'm using IE 9; it's a tiresome story and there's no payoff).

I don't mean that I'm throwing it all out right now. But I won't be replacing things with MS products (*knock wood*). In some cases I have alternatives in mind. For others I'll just have to wait and see.

I'm not one of those people who always hated MS. I didn't hate it when it was fashionable. Americans almost always hate Goliath and root for the underdog, and there's always a Goliath and always some scrappy youth trying to take him on. Before MS it was IBM, and before IBM it was Bell Telephone, and before that it was General Motors and before that it was RCA (yes, people forget RCA used to be big and scary) and so on. At the turn of the century it was The Railroads. And on and on.

My beef with MS now is that I feel like they're definitely on the downhill slide; that all their products peaked about a decade ago. I was never a huge fan of Windows but for a long time I felt like it trended better; then it peaked with Windows XP. I started with Excel 95, felt that it peaked at 2000, and hit a major skid with the 2007 downgrade. It's as if they never got over the fact that MS Works was a piece of shit, so they put the Works people in charge of Office and Works'd it.

You win. I quit.

The straw, and that's what this literally is, the final straw was a wireless keyboard. Bought it because I'd liked some MS keyboards in the past and I don't like Logitech. But the MS keyboard lacks a capslock LED. Sound niggling? It is until you're typing in case-sensitive passwords and can't figure out why they're not being accepted, until you finally think that maybe you hit the Caps lock by mistake and your cases are backward. But you can't just glance to see if the caps-lock light is on; it's an MS keyboard, you have to click on another field or open another window to type something and determine whether caps lock is on or off.

I'm fed up.

But I'm not really angry (except for ruining Excel; I still have to use that at work), I'm really looking at this as a key to freedom. It's like expatriating yourself; yes, you lose the familiarity of your home country, but there are a lot of other countries to choose from. Some are unpalatable (I never liked Apple), some are scary (Linux), some are mostly unknown (Android). But they're out there. They're different, and they have their ups and downs. Just like MS. Except hopefully I'll like their Ups more and dislike their Downs less.

A couple years ago, I couldn't imagine myself thinking this way.