Keep the wrong sort of people out of public restrooms!

Yes, there ARE people who disturb me in public restrooms.

Bathroom attendants.


Seriously, there should be a law.

Libertarians and Snowplows

I see ’tis the season for tweaking libertarians with “OMG socialist snowplows!!!” memes.

These days I’m moving away from libertarianism so fast there’s visible redshift (see what I did there??), but the snowplow thing still gives me some residual irritation. It’s no better than when people on the Right say “oh, you typed up your Socialist opinion on a CAPITALIST IPHONE, you are SO BUSTED”.

I’m not going to write a backgrounder here on the various ways the several political schools  lumped under the “libertarian” umbrella might seek to address community snow removal needs. That’s not really my shtick anymore.

But in general, when you’re tempted to bring up some basic staple of modern life and say “hah, bet you didn’t think of THAT” to your political opponent, I submit to you that maybe they have. Perhaps if you expressed some non-condescending interest they might even explain it to you.

You may still think the explanation is hogwash. But the next time you tell them that their theory for saving the world with a Muppet-based “Bertcoin” currency is full of holes, they might show your opinion a little more respect.

Comments are performance art

About 30 seconds after I posted my tale of woe about losing a child’s precious videos from a faulty camera, people crawled out of the woodwork on two different social networks to shame me for not having backups. Before I move on to the meat of this post, a few points in reply to those criticisms:

  • Backups would have been good? No shit, Sherlock.
  • Yes, as a matter of fact, I do periodically offload the pictures from her camera. Sometimes (gasp) she takes new pictures, and there’s a period of time in which the files on the camera are the only copies.
  • Have you ever tried to fit a child’s camera into your household data integrity plan? Here’s a hint: imagine a handheld computer that is in an exciting and mysterious new location every single time it’s time to archive it! Sometimes that location is a mystery even to its owner!
  • Did it occur to you that perhaps the five-year-old child in question didn’t mention that she had precious memories of a dear friend on her camera, until after those files were lost?
  • Astoundingly, I don’t normally stop to catch up on my backup regimen while rushing to get the kids in the car for an outing.
  • Equally astonishingly, it did not cross my mind that inserting an SD card would be a high-risk activity. Silly me.

I have a sneaking suspicion that no one who responded to chide me has actual children of their own. But I don’t give enough of a shit to follow up on that conjecture.

In both cases, my critic was someone who is aware of me in my professional, technical capacity, and presumably follows me because they think I have some level of savvy. As such, I can’t imagine they thought that the concept of “backing up data” had simply never occurred to me before their helpful comment. So I can only assume that they took time out of their day just to shame me.

All this goes to reinforce something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, which is: public internet comments (I include Twitter replies in this category) are kind of broken by design.

There’s a fundamental tension in making a public comment, between communication and showmanship. Ostensibly, you’re trying to say something to the original poster (OP). But you’re also playing for an audience.

There’s pressure, in making public comments, to “score points”. It’s as if we’ve taken the notion of the “open letter” and made it our default mode of communication.  It’s like we’re all having presidential debates everywhere all the time: in theory, talking to each other; in fact, performing for the bleachers. Only instead of applause, we’re playing for “likes” and retweets.

Of course, this is one of those things that can never be proven. I can’t prove you phrased your reply in such a way as to win maximum approval from the peanut gallery. No matter how obvious, there’s always plausible deniability.

I did have one person admit it once. I forget why he was criticizing me, but I kept offering to start an email thread so that we could talk in more than 140 characters at a time. Finally he came out and said that he wasn’t actually interested in engaging with me at all. He just wanted to be seen disagreeing with me.

I don’t know that I can even claim this is bad per se; “speaking truth to power”, and all that. What I can say is that it’s not communication. It’s performance art.

It’s not always negative, either. Some of the best conversations I’ve had on Twitter and other public fora were ones where everyone involved was knowingly, joyfully playing to the crowd.

On the flip side, as I’ve been stepping away from social media, I’ve started to have some lengthy email conversations with a couple of friends. And it’s wonderfully refreshing. I’d forgotten how rewarding a weeks-long, leisurely paced, one-to-one correspondence could be.

In retrospect, I feel a bit silly for thinking of public comments as principally a communications medium for all these years. Which is not to say that I’m going to embark on a new era of trolling. But I am looking forward to doing more of my conversing one-to-one.

All the world’s a stage. If you want to play, make it fun for me. If you want to talk, my contact forms are easy to find. I’ll see you in email.

VTech and contempt for children

Recently, our daughter lost precious memories because her VTech camera deleted its own internal memory as soon as an SD card was inserted.

This is the email I sent to VTech:


Hi there. I was directed to email to this address by your Twitter support.

We have a 5 year old daughter, E. One of her prize possessions is a VTech Kidizoom camera. We recently moved from Pennsylvania to Tennessee, and in the process she left behind Ms. R., who was their babysitter for years, and who has become a dear family friend.

The internal memory of that camera contained a video and photos of Ms. R., that E. liked to play back to remember her by.

The other day, we were about to go out on a family outing. Before the outing I thought it would be good to get a memory card in the camera so that she could capture as many pictures as she wanted.

I plugged the memory card in, and gave the camera back to her. Suddenly, E. broke into tears: her pictures of Ms. R. were gone!

I’d seen this before. Thinking that the memory card simply overrode the internal memory when inserted, I popped the memory card back out. Then I went looking for her pictures and video. They were nowhere to be found.

I plugged the camera into my computer, and went looking through the photo folder. It was empty.

Your camera erased its own internal memory when a memory card was inserted.

I did not enjoy explaining to E. that her precious video of Ms. R. was lost forever. This is her face when I told her:

IMG_20150703_100135 (1)

I’m a software developer by trade. One of the cardinal rules of my profession is that you always safeguard user data. It is incompetence to do otherwise.

If a camera manufactured for adults had this behavior, there would be outcry. It would get 1-star reviews, and any company that made such a camera would be falling over itself to issue apologies for people’s lost photos and a firmware update to fix the issue.

VTech, you broke a little girl’s heart with your incompetence. Your failure to maintain even basic quality standards in your firmware shows a contempt for children. This is why I will avoid ever buying VTech products again, and why I will advise my friends against buying them.

Here is their response:

We are truly sorry your daughter lost her pictures on her camera. Unfortunately there is not a way to restore the photos once they have been erased. This is why we do recommend photos be backed up to a PC, much like other digital cameras.

The manual does indicate how to proceed when an SD card is being used:

[verbatim, irrelevant quote from manual]

Again, my apologies that this happened.

I suppose it’s nice that they apologized. But notice that there is no acknowledgement that their product has what, in a camera for adults, would be considered a showstopper flaw. No indication that the issue will be taken up internally.

I can only conclude that as far as VTech is concerned, “they’re just kids”, so their memories don’t matter.

The secret to great coffee

We have, at last count:

…and I’m probably leaving several out. We used to have a drip machine but my stepdaughter inherited it when we moved.

We have a commercial-quality grinder and we roast our beans (often from Sweet Maria’s) at home.

All of these devices make great coffee when used well. Each makes coffee with its own unique characteristics.

I do not own a special “pour-over” coffee maker because a) that’s what a Chemex is; and b) the “pour over” method is what every poor bastard with nothing but a funnel and a can has ever done. Making it out to be some amazing exotic new thing is silly.

According to the internet, each and every one of these devices will make the “best coffee in the world”, far superior to other, plebian coffee.

Coffee is good. Coffee is good for you. Mostly I drink it black. Sometimes I drink it with godawful amounts of whipped cream and flavored syrup. Sometimes I drink it with sweetened condensed milk. Sometimes I drink it from the gas station (and sometimes it’s surprisingly good there). Sometimes I drink it at Starbucks.

You wanna know what’s the best coffee in the whole world? You really want to know the secret? Lean in really close now…

The best coffee in the world is whatever coffee you enjoy with a good friend, or a with good book.

Somewhere in the multiverse there is a version of me holding a cup of coffee, who thinks whatever you just said is FASCINATING.