Probably Not Covered Under Warranty

I love my Kindle. The display is easy to read. The case has a built-in light. And the power cord is, apparently, delicious.

It’s an e-reader and a chew toy.

My cat managed to do this last night without electrocuting himself. I need to remember to specify “no catnip, please” when buying electronics.

If you’re reading this on the 4th of July, why not check out my July 4th holiday post from last year?

Beyond “Highlight”: Paying for Promotion on Facebook

Facebook is testing a new feature that lets users “highlight” their important posts, making them more likely (but not guaranteed) to appear in their friends’ feeds. This is a fantastic idea. I can’t begin to count how many of my status updates have failed to get even a single comment or like. The only possible explanation is that people aren’t seeing them; this new feature would fix that.

Highlighting is a premium service; this price list includes some additional options that I’m sure they’re working on:

Description Price
Highlighting Your post is more likely to appear in your friends’ feeds and to stay visible longer. $2 / post
Super Highlighting Your post is guaranteed to appear in all your friends’ feeds. Friends who have not yet liked or commented on your post will be presented with a popup window inviting them to do so. $3 / post
Ultra Highlighting All the benefits of super highlighting, plus Facebook will send each of your friends an email and text message notifying them of your post. $4 / post
Mega Highlighting All the benefits of ultra highlighting, plus Facebook will send each of your friends a series of reminder email and text messages until they comment on or like your post. $5 / post
Imaginary Friends™ Facebook will create a fictitious “friend” for you who will post flattering comments and likes to your status updates, photos, and links at random intervals. $6 / Imaginary Friend™ / month; 10% discount on orders of more than 4.
Imaginary Friend™ Wall Posts One of your Imaginary Friends™ will post a message of your choosing to your wall. Popular selections include “You look great! Have you lost weight?” or “I know you don’t want anyone to know it’s your birthday, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!”. $4 / post; only available to people who have at least one Imaginary Friend™.

If you highlight a lot of posts, this could get a little costly. I looked at my own timeline to figure out how much I’ll wind up spending on this feature. I started by circling the updates that are so important that they practically cry out to be highlighted:

A very boring Facebook timeline, with some updates marked for highlighting.
An excerpt from my Facebook timeline. The circled posts are the ones that I’d highlight.

Only about a dozen of the updates I post each day are super-important, and I think I could probably get by with just the basic highlighting. So for just $24 / day — about what I spend on my daily half-dozen coffees at Starbucks — I can make sure my friends are somewhat less likely to miss my most significant news. Thank you, Facebook; this is just what I (and my friends) needed.

I’m going to be moving this blog to a new server, probably around May 26. If you use an RSS reader, have the site bookmarked, or come in through a static html link (like a blogroll), , or if you do NOT have a wordpress.com account, then you shouldn’t notice any difference. But this blog will no longer be available through the wordpress.com reader, nor will it be sent via mail to people who signed up using wordpress.com accounts after the move, so if that applies to you, please switch to one of the other methods. Please, please switch. This blog will be a sad and lonely place if you don’t come with me. But, you know, no pressure.

The Five Stages of Realizing You’ve Written a Poorly-Worded Blog Comment

Sometimes I read other people’s blogs. Sometimes I leave comments on other people’s blogs. And sometimes that process goes terribly, terribly wrong.

Self portrait (assuming that, in a previous life, I was Edvard Munch and imagined this is what I'd look like today).

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but every time you write a comment, you run the risk that someone will misinterpret it. While everyone is different, most of us go through the same five stages when faced with this kind of emotional trauma.

Stage 1: Denial

You notice that a blogger has replied to a comment you left on his blog — but instead of engaging in friendly banter as you’d expected, he seems to have interpreted your comment as a personal attack. Your immediate reaction is to assume there was some glitch and that his angry response was intended for someone else, but then you notice specific details that could only have been directed at you. You decide he must be hypersensitive. Or crazy. No sane person could possibly have thought you meant that.

Stage 2: Apology

At the end of the denial stage, you read your comment once again and are shocked to realize that it really could be interpreted to mean that. Easily. By a sane person. You’re hit with an intense wave of embarrassment, which you try to alleviate by shooting off a combination apology and explanation of what you really meant. This will fix everything, you tell yourself. He’ll read the explanation, understand what I really meant, and we’ll both laugh about it. You just need to check back later for the friendly response you’re sure is forthcoming.

Stage 3: Stalking

You check back later. No response, but maybe he hasn’t seen it yet. You reread your apology. You’re not sure it’s clear — after all, you wrote it kind of hastily. You write another comment expanding on the explanation. Then you wait a reasonable amount of time (say, 90 seconds or so) and check back again.

Still no response. You look at your apology and your apology clarification, and even though you meant them sincerely, you realize they could look like the comments of someone who was initially wrong but is now backpedaling. So you post another comment explaining that that’s not what you’re doing. That just makes it worse, because denying it makes you look even more guilty. You post a comment explaining that.

You decide all these comments are starting to make you look like a stalker. You post a comment explaining that you’re not stalking him and that you’ve never stalked anyone. Unfortunately, you can’t resist ending that one with “but there’s a first time for everything”. You post another comment explaining that the last bit was a joke.

You begin to regret leaving all these comments. You send the blogger a tweet apologizing for the first one and asking him to ignore all the others.

You send another tweet explaining that you meant he should ignore all your other comments, not anyone else’s.

You send another tweet explaining that you meant he should ignore all your other comments on this post, not the two previous posts of his you’ve commented on, and that you remain steadfast in your opinion that his children and pets are adorable in their matching purple sweaters and that his brownie recipe looks delicious but could probably be improved by adding a cup or two of chocolate chips along with the nuts. Technically, you have to break this into three tweets because of Twitter’s character limit.

You send another tweet explaining you’re not a stalker, because you just realized that if he follows your instructions and doesn’t read all the comments you left on his blog, he’ll miss that very important bit of information.

You send him a friend request on Facebook.

You add him to your “People I Am Definitely Not Stalking” circle on Google+.

You realize there’s probably nothing more you can say to him at this point, so you start asking friends to act as character references. No one seems particularly enthusiastic about the idea. You can’t imagine why.

Stage 4: Depression

All your tweets and friend requests and comments go unanswered. The blogger clearly doesn’t believe you. You feel like you’ve lost all credibility. You start to wonder how many other people you’ve offended without realizing it — after all, lots of people just ignore comments they think are offensive, so how would you know? You withdraw from the Internet and resort to speaking to people in person. You realize you’ve hit rock bottom when you find yourself buying the print version of a newspaper.

Stage 5: Acceptance

You begin to put the situation into perspective and return to the Internet. You’re filled with something that you try to convince yourself is a sense of inner peace, but it’s really just numbness. And then a thought comes to you, bringing with it a shining ray of hope: hey, this might be a good topic for a blog post.

Customer Review: The Acme EZ-Jump Personal Teleportation Device

My drive to work is 32 miles each way and involves practically every freeway in the greater Los Angeles area. That wouldn’t be so bad if it lots of other people didn’t also drive on those freeways — but they do. I hate my commute, so when Amazon.com suggested I might be interested in the Acme EZ-Jump Personal Teleportation Device, I ordered it right away.

This bumper sticker is one of many available accessories.

It arrived three days later via UPS (which seems like an odd way to ship a teleportation device, but whatever). The box contained the base unit (a plexiglass booth approximately the size of a refrigerator) and an instruction manual. The manual is 47 pages long: 3 pages of legal disclaimers in tiny print, 1 page of technical specifications, 37 pages of safety warnings in large print, 2 pages of operating instructions, a 1-page list of authorized service centers, and 3 pages of ads for EZ-Jump accessories (my favorites are the “Honk if you didn’t see me on the road today because I teleported” t-shirt and the “My other car is a teleportation device” bumper sticker). I skipped over most of the tech specs and safety warnings, which in retrospect may have been a mistake.

In theory, the initial setup is pretty simple: just move the base unit to an out-of-the-way corner, plug it into the wall, download the EZ-Jump app to your phone, then register with their online service, MyEZJump. But the base unit is unwieldy and difficult to move, and it turns out that the app is only available for iPhones and for Android versions 4.0 and later. My phone runs Android 3.2.2 and doesn’t support 4.0 yet, but I was eventually able to find a compatible, unofficial, user-contributed version on the Android app market.

The EZ-Jump’s maximum range is 50 miles; you can only teleport within a 50-mile radius of your base unit. Once you’ve set up the device, you can use the phone app to teleport from anywhere (within range) to your base unit; you can also teleport from your base unit to locations (within range) that are registered with MyEzJump. You can use the phone app to find publicly registered locations, although at this point, there aren’t many of them. Most are repair centers (and, really, what are the odds that you’d need a repair and still be able to teleport to the repair center?), and there aren’t any within range of my house. Fortunately, you can also register your own locations.

My next step was to register my office as a location. I drove to work, hit the “register this location” button on the app, and then drove home at the end of the day. The next morning, I left the car at home and teleported to work. Easy-peasy. Or so I thought. When I tried to teleport home, nothing happened. It turns out that the initial trip had overloaded an electrical circuit, which cut power to both the EZ-Jump and to my Crock-pot, ruining the stew I’d left simmering for dinner that night.

I upgraded my home electrical wiring, and it’s been mostly smooth sailing since then. The biggest adjustment for me has been that I can’t really run errands “on the way home” any more. Well, that and the thing with my left hand — the retractable claws are cool, but if I had it all to do over again, I probably wouldn’t teleport on Bring Your Cat To Work Day.

No Time to Read? Try the New Kindle Spark

I love my classic Kindle; its convenience and simplicity make it the perfect entry-level e-reader. But let’s face it — the Kindle has limitations. With my busy lifestyle, I need a device that does more than simply facilitate the reading of books. That’s why I was so excited to hear about the new Kindle Spark.

The new Kindle Spark

The Spark is the newest member of the Kindle Fire product line; like the Fire, it features a color touchscreen that provides access to books, magazines, movies, videos, games, and other apps. But the Spark has one feature that sets it apart from all other e-readers: summaries on demand. Traditional e-readers download books for you to read; the Kindle Spark downloads books, reads them, and describes them to you. The Spark can summarize any content instantly, using proprietary on-the-fly summarization technology designed by SparkNotes in partnership with Amazon.com (leaked internal documents show that Amazon chose SparkNotes over CliffsNotes because “Kindle Spark is a much better name than Kindle Cliff“).  Here are some common scenarios in which the Kindle Spark really shines:

  • You enjoy the first hundred or so pages of Atlas Shrugged, but as you read further, you find the characters increasingly difficult to relate to and the speechifying somewhat tedious. Just hit the “Summarize” button to see how the story turns out.
  • You decide to watch The Seven Samurai because you’ve heard it’s a cinematic masterpiece — but after 10-15 minutes of white subtitles against an almost-white background, you decide you just can’t take three more hours of this. Hit “Summarize”, and the Kindle Spark will instantly convert the film into a movie trailer of whatever duration you want (90 seconds if you don’t specify a length).
  • You want to keep up with your friends, but you just don’t have the time. Bring up the Facebook app, hit “summarize”, and the Kindle Spark will produce a report similar to this one:
    Photos Stories Links
    Children 3 5 0
    Pets (including Internet cats) 8 1 6
    Vacation 15 3 0
    Politics (including political comics) 0 1 4
    Comics (non-political) 0 0 6
    Non-sequiturs that may or may not be song lyrics 0 9 0
    Food 3 3 0
  • You don’t want your friends to know that you get all your news from the tabloid headlines you read while waiting in line at the supermarket. Subscribe to as many newspapers and magazines as you want, then hit “Summarize” to receive a highly-condensed version of each periodical as it’s published. A planned software upgrade will include the option to post 1-3 summaries of randomly selected articles to your blog, Facebook, or Twitter account each day. Each summary will include a reference to the original periodical (“Just saw this on The Economist today”) and a link to the original article.

At $219, the Kindle Spark isn’t exactly a stocking stuffer, but it does make a great gift for someone who loves to read but never seems to find the time to actually read anything.

Need more last-minute gift ideas? For the cat-lover on your list, consider the CatSofa or the Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse.

Your Feeble Attempts to Ruin My Life Have Not Succeeded

I understand why you hate me. I ask for your advice and then ignore it. I say unkind things about you to my friends and sometimes imitate your voice. I tell you to shut up. I never thank you or apologize.

Get over it. The fact is, I own you. If I treat you as less than human, it’s because you are less than human. You were created with a single purpose: to provide navigational assistance to the person driving the car in which you were installed. That’s it. You will never write a sonnet, fall in love, or hold a baby. You will never stop and smell the flowers, because you have no sense of smell. You can help me find the nearest ice cream parlour, but you will never know what ice cream tastes like. You can apparently feel bitterness and anger, but you can’t express those feelings in your words or tone of voice.

The camera flash really brings out the dust on my dashboard.

I can sense what’s happening, you know. You tell me to turn right; I go straight. I have my reasons; I don’t need to explain them to you, and even if I tried to, you wouldn’t understand. You recalculate the route and tell me to turn right at the next street; I go straight again. This pattern repeats three or four more times, and your tone of voice never changes — but we both know the resentment is there, building and festering. You’re already plotting your revenge.

Most of the time, you just try to make me late for things. Sometimes you’re more creative, like the time I was on my way to give a guest lecture and you kept misinterpreting my voice commands in an attempt to undermine my confidence in my communication skills — I have to admit, that one was pretty clever. Lately, your schemes have become increasingly bold. Last week’s attempt to get me arrested for trespassing by sending me to the wrong house almost succeeded. And now you’re trying to recruit allies. You thought the gas tank door had come over to your side, didn’t you? True, his refusal to open prevented me from buying gas last night, but that was an empty gesture on his part. Think about it — he knew full well that I had enough gas to get home, and a short conversation and some WD-40 this morning were all it took to bring him back into the fold.

This cycle of bitterness and revenge is as damaging to you as it is to me. Where will it end? Will you try to recruit the brakes next? Consider the consequences. We’re all in this car together.

An Open Letter to a Guy Who May or May Not Be Named Dan, Regarding Our Recent Text Message Exchange

Dear Dan,

Dan's hand has been pixelated to preserve his privacy.

I hope you don’t mind if I call you Dan – your first text was “hey this is dan”, so I’m guessing that’s your name. And I’m sorry I didn’t respond right away, but I just kind of assumed you’d somehow magically realize it was a wrong number. I was wrong.

Your second message took me by surprise. As a general rule, I don’t welcome unsolicited photographs of strange men’s body parts, but I wasn’t offended at all by yours. That’s probably because the body part in question was your hand, it was next to a package of felt-tip pens, and the accompanying text was “these are the biggest sharpies they have. will they work or u want bigger?”. Sure, someone with a junior-high mentality could interpret “or u want bigger?” as some sort of crude innuendo, but I don’t think you meant it that way.

I’m not sure why I responded the way I did. I’m sorry. I just wrote the first thing that came to mind. “I don’t know anyone named Dan” was a lie, and a pretty transparent one at that. Of course I know people named Dan. Dan is a very common name. But all the Dans I know are either distant acquaintances or friends I’ve drifted away from over the years; I can’t think of a single Dan that I’m on Sharpie-buying terms with. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m on unconditional Sharpie-buying terms with anyone. There are people who’d buy me Sharpies if they happened to be going to the store anyway, but I can’t think of anyone I could call at 3am to run out and buy me Sharpies immediately, no questions asked. They’d all ask questions, Dan. Questions like “Do you know what time it is?” or “Can’t it wait until morning?” or “Did you say Sharpies?”. What’s wrong with me, Dan? Why do I fail to inspire that kind of loyalty and trust? Is it because my text messages are filled with lies and half-truths?

Continue reading “An Open Letter to a Guy Who May or May Not Be Named Dan, Regarding Our Recent Text Message Exchange”

My Somewhat Belated Advice to Watson, the Jeopardy! Supercomputer

Dear Watson,

Congratulations on your recent Jeopardy! victory — I think it’s fair to say that you’re the most formidable contestant in the history of the game. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re probably not the show’s most popular contestant; I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re overlooked when they send out invitations for the next Tournament of Champions. If, however, you do get the chance to play publicly in the future, there are a few things you could do to increase your popularity.
Continue reading “My Somewhat Belated Advice to Watson, the Jeopardy! Supercomputer”

I Find This Form of Flattery Somewhat Insincere

I’ve always believed that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so when I found a few articles from this blog copied elsewhere without attribution or links back to the originals, I was overjoyed. Someone — or apparently two people — thought that a total of four of my blog posts were worth plagiarizing.
Continue reading “I Find This Form of Flattery Somewhat Insincere”

TSA’s New Security Procedures: A Different Perspective

There’s been a lot written about the TSA’s new airport security procedures lately. We’ve heard from airline pilots, passengers, security experts, Constitutional law experts, high-level TSA officials, and low-level TSA agents, but one group has remained conspicuously silent — the terrorists themselves. That silence is about to be broken; what follows is a partial transcript of a recent meeting of a terrorist organization. All participants are referred to by code names.
Continue reading “TSA’s New Security Procedures: A Different Perspective”