Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hercule Poirot Returns!

The twelfth (and I believe final) season of Poirot comes to PBS Masterpiece Mystery this weekend and I'm stoked! It seems like I've been watching the show forever, and it likewise seems to have been away forever. I'm sure I've seen just about every episode, many of them multiple times. David Suchet has been in the role for over 20 years and has truly made it his own. When I view other adaptations of Poirot stories with other actors in the lead role they just don't seem right to me. Two new episodes are airing, the first this Sunday and the last the following weekend. I'm going to have to confirm if this is truly the final season as I read something about that perhaps 9 months or more ago. My little gray cells are buzzing with anticipation.

Farewell to the Receptionist?

I've been noticing lately that many businesses that used to have a receptionist no longer have one. Instead of having a friendly voice to answer all calls or a friendly face to greet all visitors I've seen setups where you walk into the empty lobby and pick up a phone to talk to someone in an office elsewhere in the building. I've also seen setups where you press an intercom button and announce yourself before being buzzed into an empty lobby to wait for someone to come out and meet you. In other situations I've seen various people handle receptionist duties in addition to their regular job responsibilities. The receptionist has become redundant. As one person said, it's just like how Microsoft Word made secretaries redundant. Why have a secretary compose a letter for you when you can do it yourself? Have companies decided having a receptionist is unnecessary? Is the receptionist a victim of the economic recession or of changing times?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Martian

I finished listening to the unabridged audiobook for The Martian by Andy Weir and I highly recommend it. The story is mostly told from the perspective of an astronaut accidentally stranded by his teammates after a dust storm while on a 31-day Mars expedition. Weir certainly seemed to have researched his subject thoroughly. The novel has enough technical details to satisfy a hard sci-fi fan such as myself but with enough drama to satisfy someone who just likes a good book. It was definitely an audiobook I didn't want to stop listening to. I kept promising myself I would stop at the end of the next chapter (just so I could get some sleep) but I couldn't stop. It's just that good.

Laptops: Growth and Shrinkage

A few months back a friend asked me for a recommendation for a new laptop. Her home had been burglarized and the thieves had taken her old 17" laptop and a bunch of music CDs. I told her to get a 14" or 15" with as much RAM and hard drive space as would fit her budget. She asked why I didn't recommend replacing her 17" with another 17" and I told her they're just too big and bulky to be portable. I told her she would want to leave a 17" laptop at home, as she had done with her old one, instead of carrying it around with her. I couldn't get her to accept that the 17" laptop had fallen out of fashion though. She ended up hunting around until she finally found one and bought it. A couple of months later she told me I had been right. After lugging around the new 17" for several weeks and comparing it to her best friend's 15" laptop she agreed that it was too big to be easily portable.

Just a few years ago the 17" laptop was the golden boy of portable computing. They were hailed as desktop replacement units, perfect movie-watching machines, and every laptop manufacturer offered several 17" models to choose from. Flash forward to today and the 17" laptop is a rarity. Most manufacturers only offer a couple of different configurations of them, nowhere near as many as they once did. Most laptop buyers have concluded that size matters and a 17" is just too much. It's amazing how that works. Today's laptops are, for the most part, smaller, thinner, and lighter. The 17" that used to be normal is now considered to be a monstrosity.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't say, "I can't." Do say, "I don't want to."

There are some instances when you really don't want to do something. Maybe your sister wants you to babysit both of her kids when you'd planned to sit on the sofa watching Orange is the New Black all night. Maybe your neighbor wants to make use of your yard for additional parking for the party he's throwing on Saturday. Maybe your roommate wants to borrow $50. In many or all of these instances the natural temptation is to say, "I can't." That's not the truth. Actually, you can, but you don't want to. Don't say, "I can't." Say instead, "I don't want to." The latter is a statement of the determined force of your will. You are saying without a doubt that no matter the circumstances you don't want to. Your mind is made up. It can't be changed. Otherwise, you're saying there are outside factors that, if altered or accommodated, can mean that you will do what is being asked of you. When it's a matter of your decision to do something or not, make it known that it's your will that is making the decision.

White Males Can Advocate for Diversity but Women & Minorities Can't?

A Wall Street Journal post discussed that when women and minorities rise to positions of leadership within a company they're not able to advocate for additional diversity without hurting their own careers. When a woman or minority is seen as promoting the interests of other women or minorities in the company their own performance reviews begin to suffer. They're seen as less competent on the job. When a white male promotes the interests of women or minorities in the company, by contrast, his performance reviews go up and he is seen as more competent on the job. This is the kind of subtle discrimination I've spoken of previously that flies in the face of those who say the playing field is level and we don't need any institutional guarantees of diversity. It is not a meritocracy out there. White males still have institutional biases in their favor, things that aren't codified into any company policy but that work in their favor and against women and minorities when they try to do the same things.

Cherry-picking the Religion: Circumcision

It's interesting that many cite their Christian faith as being the reason for having their sons circumcised but the scriptures don't say circumcision is required. 1 Corinthians 7:18 says, in essence, that if you're not circumcised don't get circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Some would argue that what Paul was talking about only applied to adult males joining the faith and that infants must be circumcised? Really? If removal of the foreskin isn't essential for the adult who is of the faith why should it be essential in the infant who has no choice in the matter?

From Noble Savages to Innately Criminal?

It's interesting to note that during the time of slavery in the United States the African-American was portrayed as a "noble savage" and was thought to be inherently good-natured and incapable of malice. The idea of an African slave committing a crime against a white person or against another slave was practically unheard of. This belief all changed when slaves were freed and the South was placed under the terms of Reconstruction. Suddenly the former slave was a dangerous criminal predisposed to rob, rape, and pillage. White women were not safe from the ravenous sexual appetites of the Negro and had to be protected by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. The belief that the Negro was innately criminal was codified into law, with all kinds of laws created to criminalize such things as loitering or even being unemployed and to punish such things as whistling at a white woman. Within the span of a few years the African went from the happy noble savage to the innately criminal beast in popular literature. This didn't happen by accident.

Death is a Stranger

I can't help but think we've gone to great measures to isolate ourselves from death in our modern western civilization. In the not-too-distant past death was always there. Before the use of antibiotics death could catch up to you just from an accidental cut or scrape. Most children didn't live to see the age of 6. Many mothers died in childbirth or from the complications of childbirth. A cough and a fever could mean you'd be dead within a couple of weeks. It wasn't just Mother Nature out to get us though. We held public executions and invited the entire village or town to witness them, including children of all ages. Death was public spectacle, whether it was by hanging, drowning, beheading, burning, boiling, impaling, shooting, or electrocuting. Death was also close to home because embalming wasn't widely used until the early 20th century. Family members handled their own deceased, putting the corpses on display in their own homes until burial took place. The undertaker didn't handle the body, he only dug the grave. Death was intimate. Death is now a stranger. We pretend war is a video game and casualties are just numbers. Executions take place within prison walls, with only a handful of witnesses. We embalm and preserve, at least for a short time. Our medicines keep most of us alive in spite of Mother Nature's efforts to kill us. Death is that guy we once knew but no one talks about anymore.

Thank you, Facebook?

It seems like most of my blog traffic comes from the Google+ mobile app and from <gasp> Facebook. Say what?! Of course my blog posts are automatically shared to Google+ and I have G+ commenting enabled but someone is sharing my posts to Facebook. I'm just surprised I'm getting more pageviews from Facebook than the Google+ desktop. Color me stunned. Where are my G+ desktop folks?

Comcast admits customer service rep was doing what he was trained to do

Now in a leaked internal memo dated 7/21/14 Comcast admits that the customer service rep from the infamous call that went around the internet last week was doing what he was trained to do, but his tone came across as insensitive to the customer's needs. Well, duh! When you incentivize retaining a customer no matter what, this is the kind of customer service call that you get when the customer wants to cancel. The poor rep didn't want to have that cancellation counted against him. Their bonus structure is probably built on the number of retentions they get. He would rather the customer hang up and call back and thus have the cancellation go against another rep's numbers. When you put someone in that situation he's going to look out for his job and certainly doesn't want to lose his bonus. I've also heard horror stories from reps of not being able to put the customer on hold because even that counts against them. So while the rep is doing something that's going to take some time to get done, such as rebooting his computer, the customer just has to wait, listening to small talk or background noise from the callcenter, all because putting the customer on hold for anything is forbidden. Company policies are creating customer service nightmares but the companies fail to see it.

Tax Breaks and the Good of All

Have there been any long-term studies on whether business tax breaks actually benefit the city, county, or state that grants them? Recently in my area two local businesses had requested tax breaks for 10 years on property taxes and business taxes. The breaks were granted for one business but not for the other. Of course when requesting the tax breaks the businesses said not having to pay those taxes would free them up to "create more jobs" and "hire more people" which seem to be the standard phrases used in such instances. Does it ever work out for the city, county, or state though? Do the tax gains from the additional employees, presumably sales taxes and property taxes, balance out the loss in taxes from the business? The cynic in me says "probably not." I can't help but think the city, county, or state ends up on the losing side of things. Don't get me wrong, adding new employers is a good thing but I'm thinking the city, county, or state likely loses revenue in the equation that could have gone toward providing services for residents.

Revisiting "Good Hair"

So one of my acquaintances, who I'll certainly admit is something of a colorist, used the phrase "good hair" in talking about her daughter and it made me visibly cringe. I had posted about "good hair" previously so if you've been following me on my blog or on Google+ you know how I feel about it. It's simply one of the most self-loathing phrases a black person can use and if you use it in my presence only the standards of polite social interaction will keep me from going off on you. She said her daughter has "good hair" unlike some of the other "nappy-headed" girls at her daycare. Frankly, it was a WTF moment for me and only the fact that we were in a public place kept me from expressing my true feelings. By implication the other little girls at the daycare were genetically inferior and their mothers had questionable parenting for not slathering their "nappy" hair with the appropriate straightening chemicals. I fear that as black people we will never get over these distinctions that derive from our slave pasts as well as from European colonialism. Good hair indeed.

I Still Use a Standalone GPS

Even though (nearly) everyone raves about Google Maps or Waze or any other mobile phone navigation app I still use my trusty standalone GPS. I've tried the mobile phone alternatives and just not been happy. There are some things for which a uni-tasker is simply better and navigation seems to be it.

My most glaring complaint about mobile phone navigation is volume. My phone simply isn't as loud as my standalone GPS. I can crank the volume up so loud on my standalone GPS that it can be heard over the radio or any conversation with a passenger.

My second complaint is with mounting hardware. My standalone GPS mount is secure. That puppy isn't going anywhere. The power connection is built into the mount so I never have to worry about connecting the power cord then putting the GPS in the mount or putting the GPS in the mount then trying to connect the power. It just works.

Third is not having to worry about a mobile data connection. Ever. The entire North American map is built into the standalone GPS. All it needs is a clear view of the sky to get its bearings and we're ready to go anywhere. With my phone I've had instances in which the mobile data connection was lost while I was driving and navigation functions ceased. That's just not good when you're supposedly within 10 minutes of your destination but you're in heavy traffic.

Fourth is the quality of the navigation instructions. My standalone GPS lets me know 2 miles ahead of any turn or exit that I have a maneuver coming up. It tells me clearly which lane I need to be in and shows me a road sign indicating which way to go. It gives me the names of the streets and the numbers of the exits. It tells me whether my destination will be on the left or the right side of the street. In addition to the voice directions it has audio tones to let me know what I should do, so I can navigate by the tones without looking at the screen. My standalone GPS also tracks whether I'm moving much slower than the posted speed limit for more than a few minutes and starts offering me detours to get around the problem.

The fifth and biggest thing for me is that being a dedicated device my standalone GPS is doing nothing but providing me with navigation. It leaves my phone completely free for anything I might need to use my phone to do, and doing that will not interfere with the navigation at all. If I have to place or answer a call while I'm driving I'm still getting navigation instructions so I don't have to wonder if I'm still going the right way or if I missed my turn. Mobile phone navigation apps work passably well for spur-of-the-moment driving but if it's a planned trip I'll take my standalone GPS.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Taking a Vacation

I have long said when it's time to take a break, I will take a break and truly the time has come. I'm going to put my G+ activity on hold for an indefinite period of time. I'm not sure what's going on right now but the tenor of discussion has changed, seemingly for the worse and I need to disengage from it for a while. Discussions that used to be taken with the degree of mirth they were intended to have are now being met with spiteful retorts. Maybe it's the summer heat. Maybe a whole lot of folks have been getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe the milk was spoiled. I don't care. I'm over it. I'm out. If the mood strikes I will post to my blog and I'm still on Twitter. See you sometime in the future. 

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