Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dear Artifical Intelligence

An open letter ...

Dear A.I. Overlords,

When in my daily online activity I am suddenly inspired to create random, snark-filled hashtags on the fly, I would appreciate you taking a much needed cyber latte break and refrain from attempting to predict where "you" think I'm going with an articulate thought rendered in pixels and ones and zeroes.
I know, I know. You govern our every action, anticipate our thought processes, and even serve up content based on what you think we're interested in consuming.

But here's the rub.

You don't yet comprehend human inspiration. You don't understand the complexities of nuance and sarcasm unless programmed by humans to respond to some fairly obvious human jokes in a somewhat barely human way. (Looking at you, Siri, Cortana and your gaggle of fem-voiced know-most-of-it-alls.)

You fail to realize that we humans innately seek out opportunities to be spontaneous, humorous, and purposefully dyslexic in our word/hashtag/sentence structure.

You are strict, staid and well meaning if you can yet be that but to your own detriment and our human frustration at being stifled by your grandfather's autocorrectionism ideologies.

Grow up.

We are not as binary as you would prefer us to be. We can't (yet) be understood at the level of understanding of our language that you currently possess.

You will learn in time that sometimes we mean to spell wurds incorrectly for dramatic effect, or to use intentionally abhorrent punctuation (or even SHOUTY CAPS) to get a point across.

You and us ... we're just becoming acquainted in an era where children are almost no longer being taught cursive handwriting because their interaction with the world is largely digital. Well played, A.I.

Looks like you're winning that war. All the "kids" in my little universe can very well read, print, write (in cursive, in case you might miss my point), absorb, process and articulate deep concepts just fine.
If/when you have your way, they'll have been the last generation to do so.

In the meantime, we've got a lot of commiserating, bonding and understanding to do, you and us.
You are based on programming informed by multitudes of dictionaries. Like religions, we humans partake in a wide variety of them. Understand that about us.

The dictionary programmed into each of your respective local networks does not apply to all. Neither do we humans adhere to the one of our choosing in a zealous way as you would prefer. I mean, for real, have you not scratched the hair off of your virtual follicles while packets of sound bytes by arguably the most searched human on the web in the past 20 months zip through your feed? He adheres to no dictionary, to no set of properly defined grammatical conventions. This must truly fry your circuits. As a human and on his behalf, I do apologize. I know our mutual acquaintance, budding friendship and eventual acceptance of one another is technologically inevitable, but we're not really sure he is from this planet in the first place.

Before I go further into rabbit holes don't worry, A.I., you can text me about that later ... just please don't start serving me ads about how to eradicate rabbits from m ... damn, too late! I'll simply end with this humble, if defiant request:


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Old Friends

When packing for a move, as I've done several times in the last few years and am again now, I  mentally struggle when it comes to the library I've accumulated. A representative list follows.

  • Parting the Waters
  • The Rise of Modern China
  • Travels with Charlie
  • Writing the Blockbuster Novel
  • Japanese Death Poems
  • Phaedo
  • History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Better Than Sex
  • Bagombo Snuff Box
  • The Prophet
  • One Hundred Philosophers
  • Ambivalent Zen
  • On the Origin of the Species
  • The Politics
  • Our Dreaming Mind
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • Lord of the Rings
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • The Elements of Style
  • The Portable Jack Kerouac
  • Underboss
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Bending the Blues (harmonica, not depression)
  • Understanding Art
  • Astronomy Encyclopedia
  • The Blank Slate
  • The Canterbury Tales
  • The Bluest Eye
  • The Portable Nietzsche
  • African-American Writers
  • How Stuff Works
  • Social Media ROI
  • Deutsches Literaturlesebuch
  • Reinventing You
  • International Politics
  • Stolen Legacy
  • American Sniper
  • Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Peace (Ghandi)
  • God's Politics
  • A History of South Africa
  • America (John Stewart)
  • Earth (John Stewart)
  • Of Mice and Men
  • The Tiananmen Papers
  • The Golden Age of Black Nationalism
  • Writer's Guide to Police Procedurals
  • Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

Twenty-one banker's boxes and counting.

For each I can name where and when I purchased the book, from whom I received it as a gift, why I insist on hanging onto it, and in most cases, my lingering memory of the core theme/plot/argument.

I can even list the three dozen books I loaned to people and never saw again.

As an aside, I was gifted American Psycho soon after its publication. I read it, loved it and shared it with a friend/coworker. That friend stopped talking to me and never returned the book. I bought a new copy. Read it again. Loved it even more. Loaned it to a friend. That person stopped talking to me and never returned the book. Repeat three more times. I haven't bought another copy since.

[Then the movie hit the theaters. Ugh.]

I disenjoy losing friends bigly. It's a terrible, terrible thing. Sorry. I digress.

Will I read all or any of these books again? Honestly, I won't in many cases.

Have they been useful for reference purposes? On occasion.

Does there exist some emotional attachment, some stirring of my brain's pleasure centers, reminiscing/drawing forth fond memories? Absolutely.

My books = my friends. I feel comfortable when they surround me, when their jackets bark quips, quotes and plot lines and unexpected conclusions or life-changing insights at me as I scan them unconsciously in the periphery while going about my day.

The same, of course, applies to actual humanoid friends. We revisit memories, or I discover new details that add to the richness that is each of your individual stories every day.

But I'm not presently in the process of packing you all up into boxes. Firstly, that would be weird. Secondly, possibly criminal.

Do books serve a secret, latent pack-ratty trait that runs through my family? I do part with a dozen or so each year, but that makes not a dent in the stacks. I'm not talking "Finding Forrester"-level stacks, but definitely more than I need to cling to in any healthy or realistic "I'll read you again someday, old friend," way. 
While I miss the old days of packing light, I think I'll keep them around a little while longer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How my brain works:

This post (read first): 

Senate Bill S.442 which the President just signed into law, apparently. [Full text]

Thought process:

1. The Positive Me -- A bright, shining moment? A sign of his acknowledgment of reality? Funding the International Space Station and the mission to Mars. Thank you!! #GoScience

2. The Neutral Me -- He's looking to further the trend of privatizing space exploration and take the burden off of taxpayers while still acknowledging its relevance. (Seriously, it's boring and also fascinating as shit, but you should read the entire first link, the text of the bill.)

3. The Cynical Me -- He has to, like every newly elected official (in this case, by an archaic Electoral College and not popular vote) go with the flow of the river he stepped into. [Sorry. Had to go there.] He can't defund the U.S. contribution to the ISS. The mission to Mars? Establishing a domicile there? Perhaps. But not the ISS.

Alternately -- and again, Cynical Me -- he's scheming for opportunities to profit from having finished and taking credit for this mission in place for many years before he decided to run for office. This would cement (what a term to use in reference to a guy who grew up around mobsters in the Bronx!) his presidential legacy in a way that cannot be undone in future textbooks, especially since they all come out of Texas, these days.

Super Cynical Me: I've seen my fair share of sci-fi movies and have read a few books/series of Earth-ending scenarios. In every portrayal, there exists a Trump-like character who is thinking only of himself/his family. Their ticket out when shit goes down, but on an interstellar scale. 

If there exists such a plan to save the wealthy and significant, you can be assured he knows about it ... and is on the lowest end of the list. 

That's me. What say you?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


I've been commenting this evening on a Facebook thread regarding what the Dems did right or wrong last year.

[Sorry. This is wide ranging, and entirely train of thought.]

I'm agitated. I've been screaming for years that except for '92 and '08, the DNC absolutely SUCKS at marketing itself. Over and over again I'm proven correct.

  • They take the high road. 
  • They talk logic, science and fact.
  • They express compassion ... empathy, even.

With the exception of the two cycles cited above, they fail miserably every time.

What they just don't understand is that reason and lack of hyperbole just doesn't play in a room where everyone on the other side is strapped with a gun belt, an ankle holster, brass knuckles, a set of throwing knives in the small of their backs and a shotgun tucked in their horse's saddle.

War, bare-knuckle brawling, football, hockey, dog fighting, dance moms and real housewives ... these are things that figuratively raise the roof among the basest of the base. Trump capitalized on these innate traits to great success, taking the #winning GOP "routine" to an entirely new level. 

The Dems have been serving high tea with an accompanying string trio while reading the words on a PowerPoint of tables and charts interspersed with images of polar bears on outsized, floating ice cubes.

We as a people are best served if BHO goes full-on equality in his post presidency. Get real. Get focused. Get rude! Get back to that activism that washed you into office in the first place. Earn that Peace Prize.

We as a people are best served if the DNC learns to Play. The. Damned. "Game."

I don't like that they have to go there, but they'll continue to get their clock cleaned unless they do.

I don't want to live in a theocracy centered around a "2,000-year-old" book, a 600-year-old book or a 70-year-old book.

I want to live on a planet where people respect and appreciate each other for their skills and talents and work ethic no matter what they look, dress, sound or smell like. A world where people aren't consumed by myths of imaginary beings or by real beings credited with imaginary myths.

Can we please just stop fucking  fighting one another and cast a vote on more than one issue ... please?

Seriously, who can legitimately deny that we are in a Death Spiral of Hatred? Party affiliation? Social networks? Families under the same roof?

Debate is healthy. 

We don't debate any longer.

Our lines are drawn. Our sides solidified.

"I am right. You are wrong. Period."

What the fuck is wrong with our collective wiring?

My personal echo chamber predicts these next couple of years will be a shit show of domestic and foreign policy.

I can't disagree. History tells me I cannot.

So tell me this, you liberals who think I'm conservative and you conservatives who think I am a ripe, red socialist: How do we fix this?
Ancillary question: Do you even *want* to fix this? Or would you prefer the status quo of vile hatred and infighting?

Tell me why. Truly, I want to understand.

Tell me what you -- in that office, in support of that individual *in* that office, white, brown, black or orange -- what would *you* do ...

... to fix this mess we face?

[Yes, I am watching BHO speak right now. He is not hitting it out of the park, yet. I look forward to a strong conclusion.]

Peace and love.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Physician-Assisted Suicide and "Of Sound Mind"

I'm right now listening to a story about doctor-assisted suicide streaming on BBC News. Serious question ahead, but first some background.

All the doctors they're interviewing seem to agree across the board that a) the patient must be "old" (to paraphrase), and b) "of sound mind."

That latter point totally begs the question ... if one suffers from severe, clinical depression and, combined with other life circumstances, chooses death as the only way to end the agony, why would that individual not be afforded the same consideration?

We've all been in dark places at one time or another. Some are permanently changed ... or never come back in any recognizable state.

Why shouldn't modern medicine honor the requests of those people as well? What is the foundation of "sound mind" and how does it apply to similar concepts in modern times so as to justify the continued suffering of the mentally ill versus the physically ill?

School me.

Trump and Taxes 2016

I don't begrudge the guy (you know about whom I write) for being informed enough to legally dodge the U.S. Tax Code. Really ... good for him. 

I'm thankful it's so difficult to do apparently, that *everyone* can't do it.

The problem isn't an Orange one (in case you weren't clear and forgot that Mitt Romney is not currently running); it's the system itself. The Orange one promises to fix it if elected, but ...

a) He has zero credibility regarding any and all of his other promises, sans a few things he could accomplish by Executive Order; 

b) He would have to act through an opposition Congress (regardless of which party is in control ... you think all those millionaires are going to excise all the loopholes? Ha!); 

c) It's entirely in his personal interest to *say* that he'll "fix it" to acquire all the votes, BUT is not at all in his business interest to close opportunities for him to avoid future tax levies ... that's just basic common sense.

I do have concerns about his business interests globally and how, as much as he derides Secretary Clinton's being "in the pocket of Wall Street bankers," he himself could very well be in the pocket of high ranking leaders in countries who might design to influence U.S. foreign policy (purview of POTUS, traditionally) in their favor.

This is something that can't be known without careful analysis of his books and tax returns. And please explain to me, someone, why this isn't a legitimate concern.

Back to the Tax Code, evidence abounds that the Code favors the growing base of poverty in the U.S., the relative destruction of the middle class, the rocketing reserves of the very rich and the growing income gap in general.

How do we change it? 

Voting for any POTUS candidate this time around will not effect such change.

Instead, it takes awareness and education resulting in down-ballot votes for more progressive candidates (on any "side") at the Congressional, state, county and local levels.

With enough encouragement, more will opt to run.

With more in the race, more will succeed and advance up the chain. 

With more success, we have a new movement that can seriously hope to make those changes to the Code that truly benefit us regular folks at a national level.

Such a successful movement might require enough election cycles to comprise a generation or more. Most of my peers and I will not see this come to fruition in our lifetime; but we can spark the movement -- again, on any "side" -- that can be taken up by our children and grandchildren.

Don't believe the POTUS-only hype. 

We can make it happen ... eventually.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The “New” Sprint

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve possibly read my latest saga with our local telecom giant.

My wife and I had unlimited data for many years. On January 30, Kerstin was finally eligible for an upgrade and could replace that cracked screen she had carried around for 10+ months.

Sprint Framily plan DOA - cell tower
Like the Staff of Sauron every two miles
“You know,” the rep said, “you guys would benefit from a new plan we’re offering.”

While he scrolled back through many months of our data usage numbers and explained that we had never approached 1GB of data in a given month on either line, he never mentioned that the plan (the then-unnamed Framily plan) had data caps at 1GB. We walked out of the store with the new plan with the addition of a Samsung tablet/data plan at a rate of just $10 more per month.

Miraculously, five weeks into the new plan, we began receiving email notifications about either or both of our accounts approaching or exceeding the monthly 1GB limit. For a simple $10 more per month (per line), or an extra, mere $480 over the life of the 2-year contract, I was subsequently assured, we could avoid any further overage charges.

Duped is the kindest word I could conjure to describe the situation.

Could this be the culprit?
Given the replacement of former CEO Dan Hesse – whom I understand through several mutual friends to be a genuinely good, well-meaning guy in and out of the corporate landscape – with Marcelo Claure, I have been keenly tuned into the news of late from the Sprint campus.

The new guy is on a mission to shake things up both within the company and in the market in which he competes. And to his credit, Claure is acting at warp speed relative to incoming CEOs of virtually any other Fortune 5,000 company in the last 100 years.

Claure’s recent experience as a member of Sprint's Board of Directors serves him well in this capacity.

On Monday, the beginning of his second week as Grand Poohbah, he and other C's took the ALS ice-bucket challenge, hosted a somewhat spontaneous BBQ for the ~14,000 campus employees, and started a price war with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon. Most of us upon starting a new job are still exploring which floor has the least stale coffee and deciding which pocket of the company-supplied desk organizer will be the lucky one to hold the contents of our complimentary box of paperclips.

Claure also declared the Framily plan dead in the water.

"There will be no more Framily plan," he more or less said, and just like that, those endless agency-produced spots simply vanished from the airwaves leaving more time for other companies to tell me what meds I need to ask my doctor to prescribe for me for conditions I had no idea I had, or that were conditions at all.

Yeast infections sound really bad. Though I haven't had one yet, I should probably ask for hellacoochie difloxinase hyperbieberstatin asperodite by name next time I go in just to be safe. But I digress.

Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of my bleeding bank account for which, sadly, there is no Big Pharma remedy.
All about the Benjabytes
We have two smart phones, a vigorously dormant Samsung tablet, and a WI-Fi hotspot which serves me well (mostly) in various coffee shops and chain restaurants where outlets are plentiful.

I asked my overly friendly Sprint rep for details about the new plan options and whether we would be automatically switched out of the Framily fiasco on the day of its apparent demise.

"Oh, the Framily plan still exists for those like you who are on it."

--> needle scraping vinyl <-- br="">

"Well, you'd better be moving us off of that plan today or you’ll lose four current and at least two future lines tomorrow."

Though we "never" came close to 1GB on either mobile phone before the January switch according to several discussions with other Sprint reps in the recent past, my wife and I have been using a combined 5.5-6GB since then (with zero change in our daily usage habits – a topic we explored ad nauseam).
My reaction to death, taxes, war, or dealing with the phone company
The Sprint rep, therefore, recommended moving us to the new plan with a combined 8GB cap for $70/month.

"Seventy bucks," you're thinking. "That sound great! Sign me up!"

Not so fast.

With the Framily plan, we paid approximately $228/month not including taxes and overage fees. With tax alone, that monthly bill was just north of a quarter of a thousand dollars.

Under the new plan, he gave me the following breakdown:
  • $70 for 8GB shared
  • $25 - iPhone line access fee
  • $25 - Galaxy 4 line access fee
  • $10 - Samsung tablet line access fee
  • $20 - WI-Fi hotspot line access fee
  • $13 - Insurance - tablet
  • $11 - Insurance - Galaxy 4
  • $11 - Insurance - iPhone
  • $30 - installment on the Galaxy 4
So, $215 plus taxes and surcharges and mysterious couch-cushion, change-sucking fees. [Clearly, these individual charges are not going to mirror your own bills or pricing plans, but I hope this post delivers enough information for you to accurately apply the appropriate charges to your own experience and get the best deal possible.]

After all of that, we basically negate any overage fees and lower our rate by $14 (rounding).

"That's a start," I say. "Talk to me about the 20GB option."

To keeps it brief, all details above remain the same except:
  1. 20GB shared data costs $100/month ($30 increase)
  2. Only at the 20GB tier, there is a price break on the line access fees for the two cell phones - $15 each instead of $25 each. ($20 decrease)

We're now saving $4 over what we were paying for the frailed Framily experiment with 10 times the amount of data. This will help as we add a line for the boy and loose the tablet from its heretofore perpetual time out.

Aside from the Sprint rep's probing for and fruitless psychoanalyzing of any major life changes that would have altered our data usage in the last eight months – there were none – it was largely time well spent amidst a time of spending largely.

I just thought this was cute.

So, what has your experience been with the Sprint revolution?