Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Put a needle in this Haystack, why don’t you

As someone who has actually owned a car in a densely occupied urban environment where the parking ain’t easy, I well understand the frustration surrounding the hunt for a parking space.

When I had to commute by automobile – never, ever, ever my preference – I initially tried to get by without paid-for parking. I did get my Beacon Hill sticker, which entitled me to park on our fair neighborhood streets if and only if I could find a space. Which sometimes took a long and brutal search, which generally ended in my giving up and paying for overnight parking in the nearest garage.

After a while I smartened up and got worker-bee parking in that garage.

For $100 a month – it’s more now, but still a bargain – I had to exit by 10 a.m. each workday, and could enter only after 4 p.m., but had unlimited in-and-out on weekends, holidays, and snow days. Since I have been blessedly blessed with good health, I seldom had to figure out what to do on a sick day. On vacations, I parked at the airport or left the car at my sister’s.

When I started freelancing, car ownership became more problematic. I couldn’t justify paying for full-time parking for a car I seldom used, so I hit the streets. A complete and utter drag that eventually resulted in my giving my beloved Beetle to Volunteers of America.

So you’d think I’d be all over an app that let’s people more easily find that elusive space.

Well, not if it works like Haystack.

All wrapped up in a combination of like a good neighbor and unleash the inner greedster verbiage:

Help your neighbors by offering your street space before you head out with a simple tap. Cancel without penalty at anytime if nobody has taken your spot.

Not planning on heading out, but willing to move your car for the right price? Offer your spot for extended time during the most in-demand hours to help your neighbors who need it most.

Haystack lets you alert a fellow Haystacker that you’re about to leave your space, giving your estimated time of departure, your location, a description on your vehicle, and a head’s up on how long you’re willing to wait. The charge for this is $3, of which 75 cents goes into Haystack’s coffers. (The “willing to move your car for the right price” option is called Make Me Move, and lets you set your price.)

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, what happens when hapless, app-less Mom and Dad Ohio with three squalling kids in the car see you get into yours and think, hey, it’s my lucky day.

Well, maybe Dad Ohio is not Midwest nice. He’s Midwest pissed. (Those three squalling kids…)

And forget about Mom and Dad Ohio. They can go find a garage.

What about those neighbors who, like you, have a parking permit. They see you get into your car and think, hey, it’s my lucky day. Only to have the Haystacker wave them off. Only to see the Haystacker give it up for his fellow app-savvy urban parking guerrilla.

Having narrowly avoided a couple of I-saw-it-first confrontations of my own, and having witnessed plenty of them, this does not end pretty.

It’s one thing if you actually own the parking place, quite another when it’s a place the city owns.

Anyway, Haystack launched in Baltimore, but has come to Boston.

The Hub of the Universe – at least the folks who run it – is not exactly excited about this:

“That has implications that at first blush are alarming to us,” said [Mayor Marty] Walsh’s chief of staff, Daniel Koh. “When a space is available, it should be available to anyone, regardless of whether they have extra money to pay for it.”

…Haystack’s 24-year-old founder, who says his app is an innovative solution to one of urban living’s great frustrations, contends the company is not selling public property at all. Rather, it is selling information about public parking — specifically, when spaces are about to open up.

“There’s no sale of physical property,” Eric Meyer said. “This is neighbors exchanging information for a fee, and they have every right to do that. What you’re really paying for is convenience.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Although Boston’s official tone was initially somewhat open toward Haystack, they’ve now come out saying they’ll put a stop to it.

In this, they’ll be following the lead of San Francisco

City attorney Dennis Herrera has threatened to fine three services —MonkeyParking, Sweetch, and ParkModo — if they do not cease operations, accusing them of “hold[ing] hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit.”

“It creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate,” Herrera said in June. “Worst of all, it encourages drivers to use their mobile devices unsafely — to engage in online bidding wars while driving.”

Sweetch is like Haystack (only costs more). MonkeyParking is auction based. And ParkModo

…has taken to hiring drivers — at $13 per hour — to occupy street spaces at peak hours in busy neighborhoods as a way of increasing app usage.

How neighborly can you get?

Personally, if someone wants to order a pizza, do their laundry, or find the nearest hookup via app, well, have at it.

If you want to auction off your own personal, personally-owned space, have at that, too

Boston will be coming up with an app that let’s people know where metered spaces are open, and that makes sense to me. But there’s something completely unsavory about the Haystack pay-up app approach to a public good or service.

I know there’s no stopping the march of technology, but I’d be just as happy if someone put a fully-loaded needle in this Haystack.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Flightmare

Perhaps because I was never a super heavy business traveler, I escaped my full time career with relatively few travel horror stories.

Oh, there were the three hours spent broiling on the tarmac at Newark Airport waiting for the weather to clear at wherever we were headed. To conserve fuel, they turned the engines, and, hence, the AC. It was 95 and sunny. Excellent!

Sadly, I never got to Frankenmuth, Michigan. After hanging around Logan for about 3 or 4 hours, that game was called on account of snow. I had been looking forward to getting a glimpse of Frankenmuth, which is not only to home of Frankenmuth Insurance (our destination) but also some sort of Bavarian theme town. Jawohl? Neinwohl. By the time our call was rescheduled, I was no longer with the company.

Then there was the terrible, weather-delayed flight to Houston that got in at 4 a.m.

And getting stranded in Orlando on 9-11 wasn’t exactly fun.

Mostly, I had to deal with minor nuisance delays and the odd cancellation that was easy enough to work around.

On the pleasure side of the travel equation, I’ve been equally lucky.

The one big hassle trip was a seven hour delay at Shannon.

Once we got on the plane, the pilot charmingly told us that the delay occurred because the plane had been struck by lightning on the way over, and Aer Lingus “knew that we would want them to check it out.” Yes, indeed.

But my travel life has been pretty much sturm und drang free.

And then there was Frightmare: Return from Chicago.

Because of some traffic issues, my cousin Ellen – hostess par excellence for my recent visit to the Second City, formerly known as the Windy City, and before that, Hog Butcher of the World – decided to get me to O’Hare on the early side. This was great, as it gave me the opportunity to get on stand-by for an earlier flight.

Alas, I didn’t make it on.

But I was content to sit there with my Kindle.

Then came the news that the 4:57 to Boston was delayed until 7:04 p.m.

Oh, what’s two hours when you’ve got three more novels loaded, and you’re sitting near a plug?

Then the flight shifted to 8:15 p.m.

By this time, the cannier travelers – business people with tickets that were actually paid for – were booking on other airlines.

Since I was traveling on frequent flyer, my options were limited to getting wait-listed on other United flights. Which didn’t work out.

At some point, my flight was rescheduled for 9-something. With this reschedule came the admission that the plane we were going to be heading back to Boston on hadn’t left Newark yet. Given that the flight hadn’t left, and given that it takes about 2 hours to fly from Newark, that 9-something take-off began to look like the lie from the pit of hell.

While we were all sitting there doing the math, the gate person got on the PA and announced that our gate was being moved from C21 to B3.

Those of us who were more fleet of foot high-tailed it over to terminal B – quite a schlepp, I might add – only to find out that we had been misinformed.

There was, indeed, a flight to Boston leaving from B3, but it wasn’t ours, and it was full already.

Back at C21, I asked the gate person whether we had misunderstood the announcement.

No, we had heard right. What we hadn’t heard was the “never mind” that had followed the initial “get thee to B3” announcement.

By this point, the flight was scheduled for 11:30 p.m.

I figured by now that Flight 744 was just as likely to be cancelled as take off at 11:30, so I got in the customer service line. My thought was that I could keep an eye on my flight, but see what my options were for the following day.

After an hour-and-a-half wait, I got to the head of the line, where a remarkably pleasant and competent young woman told me that they had jiggered things around so that a plane coming from Houston, and a pilot coming from Detroit, would be taking us back to Boston, leaving somewhere around midnight.

Just to make sure, she booked me on the 6 a.m. flight the following morning.

Fortunately, our flight did take off at midnight, more or less, arriving in Boston at 3 a.m. Eastern.

I was delighted to learn that there are plenty of taxis to be had at Logan at 3 a.m.

So home I was by 3:30 a.m., and, after a quick shower, rolling into bed by 3:45 a.m.

I was exhausted, but none the worse for having spent 10 hours at O’Hare.

Between the Kindle – and the fellow traveler conversations I had with the Nigerian woman flying to Philadelphia, the fellow Maureen with a grandson named Oliver, the retired cop heading home from Alaska, the guy from Michigan whose daughter is looking at colleges – I was plenty entertained.

If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me while traveling, I’ll have a pretty darned good travel life.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

My kind of town, Chicago is

While I am, first and foremost, a Worcester girl, I am also, quite proudly, “half Chicago,” the town my mother hails from. (Actually the town she originally hailed from was in the complete and utter back arse of Mitteleuropa, but she arrived here when she was three or four years old, and grew up in Chicago.)

Anyway, thanks to my cousin Ellen (and her good-natured and gabfest-tolerant husband Mike), I just spent an absolutely wonderful few days in Chicago.

This is one beautiful city and, while Boston is home and, quite naturally, one of my favorite places on earth, I have to put Chicago right up there with New York City and Paris in my personal urban pantheon.

I’m not wild about the flatness, and I wouldn’t want to live 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. And there is the matter of the Chicago accent. (But, as they might say in the Midwest, honest to Pete, most folks don’t speak “da Bulls/da Bears”, and I wouldn’t want to be full time around a Southie or Brooklyn accent, either.)

Other than that, as long as you’re not one of the poor unfortunates who live in one of the violence-soaked gangbanger neighborhoods where an eight year old on a bike or a toddler at the window isn’t safe from a stray bullet, what’s not to like?

Chicago is beautiful, with a waterfront that any city that fronts on water would envy.

And Chicago’s got culture.

Not that I visited any of them on this visit – been there, done that – there are wonderful museums.

Chicago has excellent restaurants, great shopping, and plenty of stuff to see and do.

Chicagoans like and like to talk sports and politics.

Okay, it’s not the pleasant weather capital of the world. But I grew up in Worcester, and chose to live in Boston, so weather is obviously not a deal-breaker, city-wise.

So far, Chicago sounds like to lot of big cities, no? Plus or minus on some of the attributes, but you could slug in San Francisco or Philadelphia, and nothing much changes.

But what Chicago has that, in my book, surpasses any major city in the U.S., is incredibly interesting, beautifully kept up, and – thanks to that flatness – blissfully and comfortably walkable neighborhoods.

And we walked around plenty of them.

Ellen and I tromped through the neighborhood where our grandmother lived, a wonderful area full of charming bungalows and prairie-style houses. Sadly, our grandmother’s house has gotten a little run down over the years, which would have Grandma spinning in her grave. Every other house in her neighborhood was getting plenty of TLC, but Grandma’s front yard was overgrown, the paint on the front door was peeling, the front screen door was shabby. In general, things looked pretty forlorn.

In my grandmother’s day, that front lawn was a velvet carpet, and no one who washed all her windows and curtains once a month was going to have a door with peeling front paint, that’s for sure.

So that was a bit sad.

On the upside, we got to see Blago’s house, which was right around the corner from my grandmother’s.

For those who aren’t that up on their Illinois politics, former governor Rod Blagojevich is doing time for trying to sell Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder.

Anyway, his house – or former house, I gather – is a thing of beauty.

Which is more than you can say for Our Lady of Mercy Church, where both my mother and my Aunt Mary (Ellen’s mother) were married. I have to say that, whatever it looked like in the 1940’s when Liz and Mary were married, it is now a hideous combination of ugly old and sterile new.

It was, nonetheless, fun to drop in and check it out.

We also “did” Andersonville, Lakewood/Balmoral, Lincoln Park...

One house more attractive and charming than the next, all along lovely tree-lined streets.

Better than roaming around some of Chicago’s hoods was hanging with my cousin Ellen (talking everything under the sun, exchanging book lists, and criticizing the homebuyers on HGTV), and getting to visit with family: my Aunt Mary (still going strong at 89!), Ellen’s kids and grandkids, Ellen’s Chicago sibs and their spouses.

I also got to see some of Naperville, where Ellen and her husband raised there kids, and where they’re now retired.

I am generally suburb-averse, but Napervills is one of those fortunate suburbs that was actually a place on its own before it was a bedroom community. It has lovely neighborhoods, a nifty downtown that my cousin can walk to – and that nifty downtown has one of the best indie bookstores in the country, by the way – and a very pleasant River Walk along the Du Page River.

Ellen and Mike are going to be spending the month of September in Paris, and she’ll be blogging about her adventure (and about preparing for it) on Hello, Lamppost.

Those of a certain age will recognize these words as coming from Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy).

I suspect that once I departed Chez Brosnahan, Mike was adopting a quite different Simon and Garfunkel tune as his own anthem: Sounds of Silence.

Thanks, Ellen. Thanks, Mike.

My kind of town, Chicago is.

I’ve always kin of known this, but it was fun to be reminded of it.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shocked, I’m shocked. (Not really.)

The other day, I had lunch with a friend, a woman my age. Like me, K is a widow. Unlike me, she’s been a widow for more than a decade, while today I’m marking my fourth montliversary.

One topic covered in our rambling conversation was what aspects of widowhood were difficult, and which ones weren’t especially bothersome.

Although K has been at it a lot longer than I, we both hit upon not being able to go on trips with our husbands as one of the most painful things to go through. (Going on vacations had been important to both K and myself.)

But we also both talked about how, in general, spending a lot of time by ourselves didn’t bother us at all – never had (before or after being widowed), and probably never would. Neither one of us is, or aspires to be, a recluse. But we both like biding our time all by our lonesomes, that’s for sure.

As has always been the case, a lot of my “me time” is taken up with reading.

But I also take long walks – something I used to do regularly with Jim, but now do on my own. Admittedly, I occasionally find myself going over to the dark side and making a phone call on my walk, but I’m trying to make those walks either quietly observational or blanked out mind treks. I’m also perfectly content to stare out into space, sitting on a bench in the Public Garden, or to stare out into Jim’s pride and joy 48” flat screen (turned off) sitting on the living room couch.

Nope, not being able to spend enough time in my own head has never been one of my problems.

But there’s a study out that shows the shocking degree to which many folks will go to avoid being alone with their thoughts.

I shouldn’t be all that surprised. We are, after all, a nation of doers not thinkers. Still, it’s a bit shocking to learn that so many people would rather withstand an electrical shock than sit doing nothing for 15 minutes. But that’s what a recent experiment found.

Being alone with no distractions was so distasteful to two-thirds of men and a quarter of women that they elected to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit quietly in a room with nothing but the thoughts in their heads, according to a study from the University of Virginia. (Source: Bloomberg)

The study was multi-part, and involved relatively small groups, but those groups spanned age, profession, etc.

There was no evidence that any group, based on age, education, income or social media usage, was more likely to appreciate time spent in reflection.

The study originally started out with students, and researchers found that the kids got bored pretty darned easily, and disliked the experience of having nothing to do.

Naturally, a lot of us would want to chalk this up to the “always on” generation’s being singularly incapable of being calm, self-reflecting Zen gods like ourselves.

But, like all good researchers, the UVA folks forged on, so they tested:

…whether volunteers would prefer an unpleasant activity -- an electric shock -- rather than no activity at all.

And damned if a majority of the men, and one-quarter of the women, decided that – even though ahead of time, after they’d tested the 9 volt jolt and deemed it painful, after they’d said that “they would pay to avoid” the shock – with nothing better to do than think, they’d give themselves a bit of a shock to kill some time.

Maybe if I had to sit there for 15 hours with nothing to do, I might decide to stick my finger in the socket, metaphorically speaking. But 15 minutes? Don’t people have issues to think through? Conversations to replay? Slights to fret about? Problems to solve? Joyful experiences they want to recall? (Sorrowful experiences they want to wallow in?)

The most telling participants said they were bored, and giving themselves a shock was better than being bored, [lead researcher Timothy] Wilson said.

“Maybe the mind is built to exist in the world, and people would prefer to have a negative experience rather than none at all,” he said.

Talk about needing to live for the moment.

I don’t know about the study participants, but my memory bank is sufficiently full, my task list sufficiently crammed, my life sufficiently full and vexing, that I have plenty of things I can mull about.

Think I’ll put my laptop aside and cogitate on why there are so many folks out there who can’t stand to just sit there and think.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hoosiers take on student debt.

Over the years, Pink Slip has opined on a few occasions about student loans. So as the fifth anniversary of my first student borrowing post approaches, here I am again.

Except this time, it’s a bit more upbeat. At least if you’re a student at the University of Indiana.

Amid the furor over the $1.2 trillion in U.S. student debt, the seven-campus system decided to tell students annually before they take out loans for the next year what their monthly payment would be after graduation. (Source: Bloomberg)

I’m sure that there are some who think that college students should smarten up on their own, that this is one more sign that the nanny state is out of control, out for control, trying to protect us from ourselves. The same nanny state that wants to outlaw Big Gulps. That wants to keep consumer warnings on OTC drugs (may cause blindness, liver failure, suicidal thoughts, and an erection that lasts more than four hours). The same nanny state that one day will no doubt expect us to wear helmets in our showers. (Hmmm. Come to think of it, this might not be a bad idea for us oldsters, especially if the helmet has an embedded device that calls 911 when it hits the tile.)

But. I. Digress.

Indiana has found that a simple little reminder about the true costs of borrowing is paying off:

Federal undergraduate Stafford loan disbursements at the public university dropped 11 percent, or $31 million, in the nine months that ended March 31 from a year earlier, according to Education Department data. That’s more than fivefold the 2 percent decline in outlays to four-year public schools nationally.

Students aren’t dropping out. They’re just making more intelligent decisions about how to pay for their education.

All colleges and universities have to provide some guidance on borrowing when students start school, and some guidance on repaying when they’re nearing graduation. But what Indiana’s doing is letting them know every step of the way what they’re signing up for when they sign on that dotted line.

Natalie Cahill, 22, who is about to start her final year in nursing at Indiana’s flagship Bloomington campus, said that after receiving her debt letter she decided to search for more scholarships.

“When you take out loans for the year, you just see a smaller number than the grand total,” Cahill said. “Seeing the letter definitely put things into perspective.”

Students are applying that perspective. They’re applying more of their summer earnings to “the necessities”, rather than using it for the fun stuff. They’re sticking with their old smartphone, rather than grabbing for the shiny new device.

How’s Indiana going about it?

“We are having more contact with the student where they can say ‘I don’t want this,’ or ‘I want less,’” said Jim Kennedy, associate vice president and director of financial aid at the Indiana system. “If they know at all times their debt, and the repayment, it helps with a lot of planning….We added more stopping points in the process,” Kennedy said. Students “have to step back and really understand how much loan debt they’re taking on.”

I love what they’re doing.

Oh, sure, college kids should be smart enough to figure this out on their own. But they’re really not. And  it’s interesting to see students respond pretty intelligently when the consequences are laid out for them.

I would hope that other colleges and universities will follow Hoosier suit.

It’s become entirely too easy for kids to take on debt to finance their education. And the ease of taking on that debt makes it all to easy to buy those sneakers, take that spring break trip, go to that concert. Only to fast forward a few years and find out that payback’s a bitch.

Raising student awareness about the true costs of borrowing works on a couple of fronts.

Students will start their working lives with less of their paycheck committed to debt servicing. Leaving them more to devote to fun, adventure, condo down payments, and saving for their old age.

And by helping them realize that there are spending tradeoffs out there, they’ll be better equipped to manage the budgets that most of us have to live within. Some of those budgets are largely informal, others are down to the penny. Some are pretty darned elastic, others are tight. But most of us in the adult world know, more of less, what’s in the wallet of our life. The sooner “the young folks” figure this out, the better.

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In case you share my interest in student loans, here are  my generic  2012 rant, a post on borrowing for law school, one on young adults who – this is pretty unimaginable – believe that debt is cool, my ur student debt post – September 2009 – on a misguided BU student who took on an extra $10K in debt (wow: I originally typed that as “$10K in death”) to live in a luxury dorm.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Twitter Police

For all the power and glory of the Internet – hey, look at me, I’m blogging – there’s an abundance of downside. The dissemination of untruths. The fomenting of hysteria. Anonymous bullying.

Of course, most of this “stuff” existed well before the Internet. Dissemination of untruths: Hmmmmm, Joseph Goebbels? The fomenting of hysteria: Joe McCarthy? Or, more benignly, Orson Welles, with his War of the World’s broadcast. Anonymous bullying: Ku Klux Klan?

At the macro level, there is nothing new under the sun.

What’s new is not the viciousness. It’s the global reach, the speed, the scale. All part of the Internet’s value proposition, by the way. All part of what makes it great. And all part of what makes it such a clear and present danger.

On balance, I do think that what the Internet brings for the good outweighs the bad, but it’s not 99% to 1%. It’s probably more like 80-20. (On that 20 side, I include both the obviously heinous stuff – child sex trafficking – and the stuff that’s probably not all that helpful to humankind, like so many kids no longer being able to make eye contact or small talk, because all they do is text.)

Anyway, Twitter is, of course, a microcosm of all things Internet, bad and good.

On the plus side: instant emergency communication, celebrity “intimacies”, amusing bon mots, the immediate gratification of knowing something – anything – right away.

On the negative end of things: unbridled misogyny, racism, gay-bashing – some of which is regretted the morning after the night before, but a lot of it expressing how people really feel.

Anyway, it’s comforting to know that Twitter has its very own police force, and the chief of police  is one Del Harvey.

Harvey was the 25th employee at Twitter, where her official title is vice president of trust and safety, but she’s more like Silicon Valley’s chief sanitation officer, dealing with the dirtiest stuff on Twitter: spam, harassment, child exploitation, threats of rape and murder. As Facebook and Twitter have become the public squares of the digital age, their censors now “have more power over the future of privacy and free expression than any king or president or Supreme Court justice,” writes constitutional scholar Jeffrey Rosen. Twitter famously prizes free expression, but as a business it needs to ensure its platform doesn’t turn into a toxic-speech zone that scares off users and advertisers. Harvey is the person Twitter trusts to walk that line. With a daily volume of a half-billion tweets, “your one-in-a-million chance of something going horribly wrong happens 500 times a day,” says Harvey. “My job is predicting and designing for catastrophes.” (Source: Forbes)

Harvey – Del Harvey is her nom-de-VP of trust and safety, by the way, not her real name -  has an interesting background. Among other interesting gigs, “she spent a summer as a lifeguard at a state mental institution,” and, more relevantly, volunteered to pose as a kid online, engaging in chats with possible pedophiles. Later, she played a decoy on the show, To Catch a Predator. For that show, assignations between adult men and (in the episodes I watched) early teen girls and boys were set up online and via phone and, when the subject showed up for his “date” with Lolita (or Lolito), he found himself filmed by NBC and arrested. (I saw this show a couple of times, and found it completely odious. I’m no defender of 40 year old men trying to have sex with 13 year olds, but this show came pretty close to entrapment.)

Putting pedophiles away is a good thing. But I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot more active pedophiles out there these days than there used to be. And that’s thanks in part to the Internet.

Yes, the Internet lets us find out we’re not alone. That we’re not the only one-handed vegan knitter who raises labradoodles. That there are other people who live for Mad Men. Who collect tea canisters. Who have scorecards for every major league baseball game played since 1946.

But I suspect that there are also plenty of people who may have harbored evil thoughts, but who might have kept those evil thoughts deep in the recesses of their minds where they belong.

Along comes the Internet, and, all of a sudden, you’re kind of legitimized.

Hey, there are a lot of us out there. I’m not alone.

I’m making this up, talking through my hat, as they say, but my intuition is that more pedophiles (and other bad folks) are acting on their dark impulses because they’ve seen them legitimized exposure to so many who are like-minded.

Which, of course, has nothing to do with Twitter and its top cop.

Policing what gets tweeted is probably on balance a good thing, even if it’s not for altruistic reasons, but to keep the advertisers on board.

No, I don’t want Del Harvey policing every nitwit who says something misogynist, racist, mean-spirited and vile. The really nasty ones seem to get outed on their own. But if we can stop a Sandy Hook massacre, or another 9/11, by following what people are saying in a public forum, then I say go for it.

…Twitter doesn’t allow threats but relies on its community to flag them for removal and report them to the police. While Twitter has automated systems to weed out spam, tweets about direct violence and suicide require manual review. “Context matters,” says Harvey. “‘Hey bitch’ can be a greeting or form of abuse.”

Be careful of that context, Del. I can certainly see plenty of opportunity to call the cops, only to find out that that “hey bitch” was misconstrued, and that sometimes when someone says “I could kill you”, they’re speaking metaphorically.

What a tough and interesting job Harvey has.

Not one I envy, but interesting nonetheless.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

What to do, oh, what to do.

I’ve now had my laptop about two-and-a-half years, and my smartphone is coming up on three.

That laptop is definitely nearing its trip to the glue factory, freezing up every once in a while and even – gasp – throwing the occasional blue screen of death.

As I do every time I have to re-up on tech, I will consider (and likely reject) something Mac-ish.

Yes, I know they’re wonderful, and cool, and lighter than air, and run Office just fine - which is a useful attribute as far as old Luddites like me, who our workaday, get-things-done apps local, and not just in the cloud, thank you – but the old Intel girlll in me always ends up just saying no to things Apple.

I do have an iPod around here somewhere, but I never transferred the files over to this laptop when I got it, so I’m not sure that I could even add anything to my playlist – even if I could find the iPod.

There was nothing wrong with the iPod.

In fact, I liked it, and it certainly saved many a long drive to Syracuse, that’s for sure.

But I’m not someone who has to have a bud in my ear at all times, and I haven’t driven to Syracuse in a while. Maybe someday I’ll dig it out. (Of course, by that point, whatever I’m using for a smartphone will be my device for tunes. I just haven’t bothered going down that route quite yet.)

Although I liked my iPod, I didn’t love my iPod.

So I’m sure that, when it comes to my personal computing needs, I will yet again be able to resist the lure of Apple.

Part of it is always the price, which is always higher than whatever comparable Intel-based thing I’m looking at. Not unnervingly higher – especially given that whatever it is yields a tax deduction – but still enough to give me pause.

And then there’s my general pigheaded resistance to succumbing to Apple’s brilliance. Maybe it’s the fan-boys. Maybe it’s that whiff of superiority that still manages to emanate from the company, even if their star is not quite so ascendant post-Jobs, and in the Era of Google. And maybe it’s just that, since my first purchase of a Leading Edge – I could always pick the cool technology – over thirty years ago, I’ve been just fine with Intel inside.

My husband had one of the early Apples, but once that croaked, he became an Intel-er, too.

Over thirty years, that has meant a parade of Gateways, Compaqs, HPs, Toshibas, Dells.

I will be taking a serious look at the MacBook Air (i.e., I will go to the Apple store and see if some Apple cultie working ad majorem Apple gloriam can convince me that this is the year).

And I’ll also be taking a serious look at the Microsoft Surface Pro (i.e., I will go to the Microsoft store and see if some MSFT not-quite-cultie can convince me that the “it’s a bird, it’s a plane” hybrid approach that they’re taking is the one). While I lean Intel, from what little I have seen of it, I’m not that wild about the Windows 8 UI – much too pictorial and, sigh, Mac-like. But that’s the way of the world. Me, there are still a lot of things I’d still be content to do in DOS…

At present, I don’t plan on just getting a plain old laptop. But there is always the possibility that MacBook and Surface Pro sticker shock will send me into a swoon.

Anyway, the plan is to have the laptop replacement decision made by the end of the month.

If I do end up with yet another vanilla laptop, it will put more pressure on the smartphone decision, since I’ll no doubt be tempted to get one of the more tablet-like ones – you know, the ones that are too big to fit in your pockets. Wider, flatter, and god knows more functional versions of the original 10 pound “mobile” phones.

And I really don’t want to add a separate tablet to my list of electronics – work “thing,” smartphone, iPod, Kindle - I really do need a “device” that I can do work on, where I can use the only apps I do use regularly. You know, the old fuddy-duddy ones like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. (And, for blogging, Live Writer and Word Press.)

Meanwhile, on the phone front, the smartphone I will be replacing is, it will come as no surprise, a Blackberry.

Just as I have resisted the lure of the MacBook Air, when I got my first smart-ish mobile five years ago, I as able to withstand the iPhone, and went with a Blackberry. At the time, this was the preferred business phone – better for e-mailing, better for con calls – than the iPhone, which was better for web surfing and for apps.

I’m quite sure that the iPhone has caught up on e-mailing and con calls, and it’s got to be better than the Blackberry for surfing. (I really don’t care all that much about apps, other than the ones that let me read things – like train schedules – more easily on my phone. Asking Siri where the nearest vegan sushi spot is, and playing Angry Birds or Candy Crush or whatever the “it” game is, are not of particular interest.)

But why bother to keep resisting the iPhone? Why bother getting tangled up in trying to figure out what Android device to buy?

My parents got more than they bargained for when they spent my childhood – whenever I asked about something I couldn’t have or do that all the other kids could have or do – drumming into my skull that “you’re not like everyone else.”

So, Liz and Al, you’ve succeeded: I am not like everyone else. In fact, I may be constitutionally incapable of buying an iPhone!

But you haven’t succeeded all that well.

You also raised your kids to be sympathetic to the underdog, to be charitable, to be empathetic. All those terrible, white-wall haircuts the boys had because you felt bad for Vic the blind barber. Those clunky red shoes I let my mother by me out of sympathy for my mother, who’d always wanted a pair just like it. (I was 10. What was popular and styling in 1960 was not, I assure you, what was popular and styling in 1930 when my 10 year old 1mother craved those clunky red shoes.)

Seriously, I’m not sympathetic, charitable, or empathetic enough to buy another Blackberry, however bad I might feel for them (or how stubbornly I feel the urge to cling to my original smartphone choice).

At least I hope not.

Stay tuned for further news on my coming device purchases…

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