Anachostic

My tagline, let me show you it.

A World Without Stereotypes

The concept of stereotypes has been around for a very long time.  It’s only fairly recently that “Social Warriors” have taken up the fight to eliminate the use of stereotypes using the universal weapon of shame.  I’m not saying that I’m in favor of keeping or eliminating the use of stereotypes.  I’m saying that the point is moot.  There are no stereotypes anymore.

Stereotypes have historically been a “bad thing”, because they encourage prejudice.  They allow you to assume the behavior or personality of someone based on external factors.  I certainly don’t need to bring up racial stereotypes, we all have plenty of examples for that.

Stereotypes provide a slightly less offensive use, also.  They are coping mechanisms, where one can sort of explain away behavior that they find objectionable.  Like I say, that’s only slightly more offensive, since all you’re doing is reinforcing the stereotype in your mind for future prejudice.

Anyway, like I said, there’s no reason for any of that anymore.  I’ll provide an example and you can build it out from there.  Long ago, you could make an educated guess (which is just a polite term for prejudice) as to how a driver would behave on the road based on the vehicle they drove.  BMW drivers?  Women in minivans?  Old, beat-up, rusty Toyotas?  Little foreign cars with fart cans for mufflers, lowered to the ground?  Are you developing mental images for each of these?  Well, those images are all outdated.

You used to be able to see a car swerve on the road and say, “Typical (stereotype).  No surprises there.” Or pull up behind a vehicle covered with bumper stickers and think, “Yup, pretty much what I thought” when you analyze the stickers’ content.  But no more.  Any car can surprise you.  An “old-person Buick” goes weaving through the lanes; you get honked at by a fleet of micro-sized cars; middle fingers from corporate vehicles.

The reality is, everyone is an asshole.  It doesn’t matter what car they drive, they are going to be an asshole on the road.  Taking that a little further, it doesn’t matter what their gender is, what their race is, or what their religion is.  They are going to drive like shit and put everyone at risk for their own selfishness.

Now, can this logic be applied outside of the highways and interstates?  Maybe, but probably not yet.  Over time, maybe we can eliminate our differences in the non-driving world and we can all be a common humanity of assholes.  I can see progress being made on that front every day.

But more seriously, there are so many goddamned people now, it is not possible to be prejudiced.  You simply cannot predict what any one people will say or do.  You will consistently be surprised, for better or worse, and usually for the worse.  If you try to create stereotypes, you will have so many distinctions that it becomes useless to try and refine them any further.  It’s part of the individualization fashion, started when Windows 3.1 came out.  Yes, I blame Windows.

They Robbed Me Blind

Saturday morning, I went to get in my car and noticed the door wasn’t latched.  Weird.  I got in the car and my glove box was hanging open and my center console door was open.  Really weird.  Then it dawned on me.  My car had been broken into.  I use the term “broken into” loosely because I rarely lock my car doors.  I figure there’s nothing really of value for anyone to steal, and if they do steal something, it’s just an excuse to upgrade.

I looked around and nothing was missing.  This puzzled me.  My CDs were still there, my GPS/dashcam was still there, my MP3 player was still there.  A card wallet with probably $150 in gift cards in it was still there.  Yeah, I don’t expect anyone to steal my CDs, and yeah, they could have grabbed the MP3 player and said, “Oh, it’s a Zune”, but hey, doesn’t everything have some value to a pawn shop?  Are these smart thieves that only steal things of real value?

So whatever, I closed everything up and went about my day, puzzling over the experience.  I didn’t feel violated or anything, just confused.  Like I had such shitty stuff it wasn’t even worth stealing.  As I think about it now, maybe someone just wanted to know what it was like to sit in a car like mine?  But why wouldn’t they close up the storage areas before they left?  By Sunday evening, it didn’t even really mean anything to me.  As I was driving home, I needed to put on my glasses.  I wear glasses only for distance viewing and I need them especially at night to reduce the halo effect of lights.

Where’s my glasses?  They’re not in their usual place.  Seriously?  That’s what they stole, my prescription glasses?  What good will my glasses do them?  What a stupid criminal.

So now, I have to get another eye exam (which is overdue anyway) and get a new pair of prescription glasses.  Like most “disasters” in life, it’s just an inconvenience.

He Who Controls The Spice

This weekend, I picked up a couple of other CDs from my prime musical era: the 80’s.  It would probably be interesting to poll people and find out what they consider the best music of their life.  Based on anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, it would be the era in which a person became an adult, about when they were 18-21.  But that’s not really the point of this post. 

The thing I have discovered is that although we have all these eras of music: 50’s/oldies, 60’s/hippy, 70’s/classic rock, 80’s/glam/pop, 90’s/depression, and onward, each era has so much more than those generalizations I just assigned to them.  And even when you explore those other genres, they are still consistent with other genres of that era and also different than the same genre in other eras.  For example, Jazz in the 70’s sounds different than Jazz in the 80’s.  But Jazz in the 80’s still has that production sound of pop music the 80’s.  So the point I’m trying to make is that you can explore many genres within your prime musical era.  The amount of music just within your preferred era is staggering.  Believe me, I’ve been getting more and more daring and buying artists I only had a faint memory of.  The best way to describe the result of that effort is like filling in a puzzle of the entire musical landscape of the 80’s.  You see (hear) each album all in context and relation to the others and the era as a whole becomes more defined.  But that’s not really the point of this post, either.

I had to put those thoughts out first because I am curious abut the future (and a little about the past).  The 80’s could be the premier music moment in recorded music history, all due to the creation of the CD.  Because of the mad rush to upgrade past recordings to CD, then because of the eventual low cost of CD production, there is an overwhelming amount of music physically available on CD, both past and present (present meaning 80’s).

However, as we know, streaming is becoming the new standard.  Proponents of this format claim that it will encompass everything, where any music ever made will be available at a moment’s notice.  But will it?  It’s been shown many times over that an artist can simply refuse their catalog to be offered on a streaming service.  Not only an artist, but maybe an entire label.  If a label goes bankrupt, where do the rights go?  The music is only available when everything is working perfectly – and I wasn’t even meaning the technical bits working perfectly.

With our massively analytical society and our ROI-driven corporate environment, what are the odds that a streaming service would look at some particular music and see it isn’t being accessed enough or isn’t generating enough revenue, so it is just removed from the service.  It’s no longer available.  It’s not lost, just unavailable, which is pretty much the same thing to an end user.  I have seen news that some albums are no longer being released on a physical medium, therefore there is no way to own a copy of the music.  If this pattern accelerates, then there will come a time in the future where music can be lost.

Of course, none of this matters to me, because I’m still filling in the gaps of my era, but future generations will end up having a very spotty image of what music was like in their prime.  That would be a shame.

What’s Good For Us Is Good For You

It was a while ago that I had gone to Pollo Tropical and ordered my usual, with a large drink.  The cashier replied, “We only have one size of drink now.” Ok.  But that is a medium cup.  Right.  That change, which I considered kind of significant, made me think about the whys of such an unannounced change.

For the company, the change would mean reducing the number of items they had to stock and order, which has benefit.  Also, it’s less drink walking out the door, because who wouldn’t refill before leaving? So, there’s that savings. And finally, I assume it’s a preemptive move when the pressure comes on for the death of soft drinks.  Kind of, “Hey, we’re not even allowing people to buy more than 20 ounces here.”

Although I was pretty displeased with the change, I accepted it and moved on.  Then, yesterday, I went to Firehouse Subs and got a meal combo.  I was given a 20 oz cup.  Wait, didn’t this used to include a 32oz drink?  I looked around and saw 32oz cups on other tables, so I don’t know what I did wrong.  Oh well, I don’t eat here that often anymore, so I sucked it up and got on with my day.

Today, I go to Sweet Tomatoes.  I get to the cashier and ask for a large drink.  She hands me a 20oz cup.  No, I want the large size.  “We only have these now.”  WTF.  Just like Pollo.  But, Sweet Tomatoes only ever had 32oz to-go cups, not the 20oz.  So something’s afoot here.  It’s not simplifying stock items, it’s shrinking things.

Fountain drinks are the biggest profit makers for a restaurant.  It’s under a quarter for a cup, lid, straw and the drink itself.  Considering many places I go charge $3 for a drink, you better believe I get refills and to-go cups whenever I can.  And now, they’re shrinking the available cup sizes so you can’t leave with an extra 10 cents of drink?

For future reference, Boston Market still only has one drink cup – a 32oz cup.  They’ve recently changed from a plastic cup to a paper cup.  Let’s see if they shrink it down to a 20oz.

New Frontiers

As an old customer of Verizon FIOS, I was transferred with many others to Frontier.  I never had any significant issue with the transition.  Yeah, their web portal sucked for a while, but my service was uninterrupted and my rates didn’t change.  I had renewed my contract just a couple of months before the changeover.

A lesson I’ve learned, but will probably never be able to apply again is, don’t make any changes to your grandfathered account.  Recently, I decided to change my home phone number.  I never used it, but my ex-wife used it everywhere and all the phone line did was fill up the voicemail with her collection agency calls.  So I wanted a fresh start.  I called Frontier and over a couple of calls, I had a new number.

The next month, I got a bill in the mail from Frontier.  That was odd, because I didn’t think I had any real service done.  The bill was my monthly statement.  That is odd, because I had paperless billing activated.  Further the bill was not for my usual amount of $106, but for $165.  That’s no good.  As I was scanning the papers, I noticed my new phone number was now my account number.  I was suddenly a new customer to them, one with no promo pricing.  That’s no good at all.

I logged in to the web portal and saw that all my past bills were inaccessible (since they were under an old account number) and my autopay was deactivated.  So I got on the phone with billing support.  The guy was pretty confused about the whole situation and eventually gave up, saying the department that needed to handle problems like that was gone for the night.  They would call me the next day.  Unsurprisingly, they didn’t.

I called back during normal business hours and got someone more experienced.  She understood that all that was needed was to restore the discounts on my account.  So after a bit of work she said she couldn’t get it back the way it was.  The reason is that my cable package was migrated from Verizon and there was no Frontier equal.  My bill would go up by about $10/mo.  I kept my mouth shut and the rep said she would transfer me to “retentions”, who would have more power to change the billing.  Ok, then.

The retentions rep also understood the problem and worked to put the discounts back in.  Unfortunately, she still didn’t have any access to restore my cable package.  However, she explained that my cable package was going to change from about 20 channels to 75 channels.  And that’s not so bad.  I rarely watch TV, but the one time I checked it all out, the online channel guide was useless because I couldn’t filter it to only my subscribed channels.  So I always got “this channel is unavailable”.

So, for the privilege of changing my phone number, I had to upgrade to their lowest cable package, which was more than my existing package.  To be fair, that change was inevitable.  I would have to bite that bullet when my renewal came about.  In the end, I got a $25 credit, 75 channels, and the ability to stream cable through my Roku devices.  All for an extra $120/yr.  Oh, and a new phone number, which is really all I wanted.

Inmates Running The Asylum

Ha, you think I’m talking about the current political environment.  Nope, I’m talking about my workplace.  I’ll be honest.  I’m a bit old-fashioned.  I’m in a different generation than most of my co-workers and some of the things that are important to them are absolutely ridiculous to me.  For example, the company dress code.

Years ago, one of my co-workers lamented to me about how he couldn’t wear “a hoodie and flip-flops” every day at work.  This is important to him.  The fact he has to wear business casual clothes (which does include jeans) is a problem.  And strangely, employers now have to cater to their employees despite an overwhelming labor force eager to take those positions.

Recently, my employer conducted an experiment.  You could wear anything you wanted to work as long as it wasn’t revealing or offensive.  Personally, I didn’t change a thing, but many others broke out sandals, flip-flops, shorts, tee shirts, hats, and more casual dresses and skirts.  The workplace went from business casual to resort casual, and in my opinion, became more slobby.

The experiment went for 2 weeks and when it was announced that it was going to end, “hoodie and flip-flops” wrote to the HR director asking why it was ending if there were no complaints about how people abided by the rules.  The answer was “we’ll see.”

On the first day after the experiment’s conclusion, “hoodie” came in and announced loudly, “Fuck this place!”  He didn’t get fired or even written up for that, but did get counseled on his behavior.  He had to write an apology letter to the HR director saying he wouldn’t do anything like that again.  His letter also mentioned it was the loss of the relaxed dress code that caused the outburst.  It was a great way to make the case for keeping it, for sure.

But here we are, a couple of weeks later and great news!  For a limited time, SlobFest has returned to our workplace!  For the rest of the summer (excluding days where clients will be visiting), dress down, be comfortable (since that’s so important to you), act like you’re on vacation.  But please, if there’s anything else we can do for you, don’t hesitate to just shout out, “fuck this place!” and we’ll see how we can accommodate you.

Me, I’m outta here.  Fuck this place.

Get Off My Lawn, And My Beach, And My City, And My Country, And My Planet

Over the weekend, I got to spend some time at the beach and it was pleasant.  The key to that pleasantry was going early in the morning, before the large families arrived.  As I was basking in the silence, actually able to hear the waves, I thought about how nice it was right then and how it wouldn’t be so nice in a few hours.

I thought about these groups of people with screaming children and boom boxes and thought it would be really nice to not have to be around them.  But obviously, they have just as much right to any public space as I do.  It’s just that my quiet presence wouldn’t intrude on them, but their boisterous presence would intrude on mine.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair. 

I thought up a label for these people.  They are “environment modifiers.”  Wherever they go, they modify their environment to suit themselves.  Natural beauty?  The sound of nature?  Unnecessary. We have children and portable stereos.  It’s just like being in our house or our back yard, only the visuals are different.

I mulled over different ways to handle this.  One idea was segmenting the beach into noisy and quiet zones.  Of course you don’t say it like that.  The beach is divided into “those who love the sound of children playing” and “those who love the sound of the sea”.  And those are truly mutually exclusive.

And sadly, this little microcosm is applicable to our society as a whole, when the loud and obnoxious drive out the polite and quiet.  When decisions are made based not on merit, but on amplitude.  Where resources are acquired sorely through aggression.  When acquired resources are resold to others at a profit, when the justification of that profit is solely getting there first.

“And the meek shall inherit the earth.”  What a wonderful, ruinous place it will be to inherit.

Just Your Everyday Millionaire

There’s rich, filthy rich, and everyday rich.  Today I faced the worst of the bunch, everyday rich.  The key indicator?  The boat.  Yeah, around here you see a lot of boats.  There are a bunch.  But there’s boats and there’s big boats.  And in the realm of big boats, there’s certain strata of features and functionality, of which people prefer or defer.

Anyway, it’s after lunch and I need to refuel my car.  WaWa is packed.  I try to drive around the pumps and I can’t because a massive truck towing a massive boat is blocking the driveway.  So I turn around and take the pump behind him.  One of the owner’s 3 teen kids/assistants comes over and say they need the room to back out when they’re done fueling.  Fucking fine. 

I drive around the gas banks and take the pump on the other side of the big-ass boat.  I get out and one of the teens says “we’ll be done in a minute.”  What?  I look up (at least 6 feet over me) and without thinking, just exclaim, “holy shit!”  They’re filling this stupid boat with TWO pumps at the same time!  One of the pumps was supposed to be mine.  True to their word, it only took about a minute to finish up with my pump and as I fueled up, they blocked off traffic, backed the whole disaster up and got the shitshow out on the road.

The whole experience to me was stupid.  A truck and boat that large should have been filled at the dock, instead of a public gas station.  But, they would argue, it’s so expensive at the dock!  Hold on, there, poor boy.  You have three teenage sons.  The truck towing your boat is at least $60k.  The boat is easily $500k.  Even the trailer it’s on is probably $20k.  You just filled it from two pumps with non-ethanol fuel.  I don’t know anything about your living situation, but I can assume you have at least a four bedroom house with room for a truck and boat and trailer.  I’m doing pretty well for myself, but I couldn’t afford any of those things.

So, when you take your massive boat to WaWa and inconvenience all the normal people for a while to save a proportionally small amount of money and waste a bunch of everyone’s time, including your own, well, that deserves a middle finger or two.  Because you’re only playing rich. 

Maybe you’re leveraged out the ass and hoping the next recession doesn’t come along for a while.  Maybe it’s 2008 all over again and you HELOC’d your house to death since home prices have recovered.  But you still haven’t found out what it’s like to be rich.  You don’t understand time is money.  If you did, you would realize the time you’ve spent fueling your own mega-boat is a net loss for you.  Leave the WaWa alone for the poor people who have to put non-ethanol fuel in gas cans for their pathetic little boats.

It’s Good To Be A Coder

While driving over the weekend, I had a humorous thought that I think I can stretch out into an extended joke.  The base premise of the joke is simple, just recaptioning an old comic strip to change the context of the comic and the dynamic between the characters.

So, to begin this, I need the original comic strips so I can deface them and make them funny in a different way.  I found the website that was hosting the comics and looked into what effort it would take to get these comics.

Here’s a small lesson in image thievery on the internet.  The most pedestrian way to get an image off the internet is to do a screen capture with something like Snipping Tool.  That route will burn you out in a matter of minutes.

The better way is to right-click the image and choose Save As.  This preserves the original image dimensions without any possible variance from lassoing.  However, web developers have gotten smarter about this technique and will do protective coding to prevent the unwanted downloading of their files.  One way to do this is to capture the mouse’s right-button click.  Other way is to overlay a transparent image over the other so when you right-click and Save As, you save the transparent image instead of the one you really want.  The most effective way is to show the image as a CSS background.  However, the truth is, if it’s in your browser, your browser requested the file and you can do it too.

To get around these tricks, you can use the developer tools built into most browsers.  They will allow you to look at the source code and find the URL of the actual image you want.  That is the path I originally took, finding the image tag, copying the URL into a new tab, then downloading/saving the image.  That lasted for about 7 images before it was too much effort.  Coders are lazy, and they write programs to do the work for them.

Looking at the URL for the image, it was a dynamic URL, not a static one.  It was similar to:

http://thewebsite.com/content.php?file=QXJlbid0IHlvdSBjbGV2ZXI/

At first, I was discouraged, because the file parameter just seemed to be a string of random characters.  There wouldn’t be any way to turn that into a reliable sequence to cycle through.  But the more I looked at the URL, the more familiar the text seemed.  I took a guess that the string was Base64-encoded, and my guess was correct.  Decoding the string resulted in another URL, although that URL was not accessible from the internet.  It was a page that “content.php” had access to, though. (Just as an aside, this programming design screams “security issues!”)

The decoded URL had a very understandable structure that would allow cycling through comics based on date.  It’s just that I would need to construct that URL, encode it in Base64, then pass the encoded URL as a parameter to the content.php address.

I fired up Visual Studio, added a datebox and a button.  I wrote 4 lines of code to construct the URL based on the date in the datebox, then download and save the image. Then I set up the button to decrement the datebox by a day and process the image.  Now, All I had to do was click a button over and over and the images would dump into a folder.  If I wanted to, I could set up a loop to cycle through images and I wouldn’t even need to click the button at all.  This was less than 15 minutes of effort.

And that is yet another example of the power that comes from being a programmer.

Long Dead Spirits In My Car… With Machine Guns

I’ve got guns in my car and they won’t go; spirits in my car and they won’t go.

I’ve had my car for about 7 years.  That’s a pretty good run.  Very soon after I bought it, I swapped out the stereo and speakers with aftermarket ones.  Then I upgraded to a dedicated amplifier for the front speakers.  This setup has given me a lot of enjoyment over the years.

Recently though, when the temperature gets high, as it does often around here, I get this small issue.  What happens is a rapid popping comes through my speakers at full volume.  It typically scares the shit out of me, but I’ve never been so scared as to be unsafe on the road.  Still, having a machine gun open fire in your car is not the most pleasant experience.

When this happens, I have to turn the stereo off completely.  Muting the speakers doesn’t help.  Moving the fader doesn’t help.  So my diagnostic conclusion is that the problem is with the amplifier I have in my trunk.  The heat must finally be killing it.

Yesterday, I finally had enough of this nonsense, so I went to the trunk and unfastened the amp from the wall.  I waited for the machine gun to start, then I started banging the amp around.  I figured if it was a loose connection, something would change.  Nothing changed.  I then removed and retightened the power lines, in case they were loose.  No change.  Some more banging.  I assume parents can understand this method of troubleshooting.  If something’s not acting right, knock it around a bit and see if it gets better.

I finally give up and disconnect the amp fully.  I go inside and immediately order a replacement.  Not bad, $60 on sale – that’s probably more than half off what I paid originally.  Then I go out to buy groceries for dinner.

POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP – WHAT THE FUCK!!!  Why are my speakers machine gunning again?  There is nothing connected to them anymore.  You can imagine my complete confusion in this scenario.  It’s like a corpse screaming after you’ve done the autopsy. (That imagery is courtesy of a death metal CD over the weekend.)  So, I’m driving and the speakers are blasting at me.  I want to find out how this is happening while I’m still driving, but I can’t take too long because it’s destroying my ears.  My brain runs through any impossible situation.  Could the speaker wires be frayed out and touching a power source anywhere along their path?  Why would that stop when the stereo was off?  No, the speaker wires are dead-ended.

Covering each speaker in turn with my hand, I found the source.  The noise is coming from my center channel speaker and the tweeters in my doors.  But how?  I didn’t connect those speakers.  Ohhhh!  Those speakers are still connected to the original factory amplifier.  That amp doesn’t get an input signal anymore, but apparently, that is the amp that is failing.  After 7 years of (non-)use.

So now, I have an order for an amp that will be arriving Wednesday that I don’t need and I have an amp that deserves profuse apologies.  Today, I’ll be able to disassemble the car and unplug that factory amp and reinstall the aftermarket amp.  While I’m at it, I might as well remove all the Zune integration.  Its time has come as well.