Category Archives: Blogging

Never Say Never/Keeping the Old/Shouldn’t Be Surprised

OK, I changed my mind.  I’ll keep writing.

Whatever damage I may have done to myself from these posts is already done.  Beyond that, when the hammer drops, I’m sure the authorities will have far bigger fish to fry than me.

But it’s a beautiful summer morning here in NYC; I took an early-morning ride, so the endorphins are flowing; and my work has slacked off from its maniacally busy pace for the past few months, so that I have a few moments to write.

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I got my current cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note, when they first came out in early 2012.  It was the first phone with a screen over 5″ diagonal; some suggested that it was too large to comfortably handle.  But my big complaint with my previous phone was that the screen was too small.  So it was great to be able to read e-mails and their attachments without having to scroll, and with a minimum of squinting.  The camera is also good enough to be comparable to a point-and-shoot film camera: good for pictures among friends, and most of the pictures I need to take for work.

Now, the two-year contract has run out, and I can go back to AT&T and get a new phone relatively cheap.  But looking at what’s available, the only phones I like are incrementally newer versions of the Samsung Note.  Casting about further, among unlocked phones, there’s the Lenovo K900, which was never offered for sale in the United States.  It looks really cool, but it’s from 2012, and is functionally not too different from my Note.  Not worth the $450 or so it would cost.  (Lenovo has a newer model, again not marketed in the US, which has a slightly bigger screen, but looks nowhere as cool as the K900.)

So I’m keeping the Note.  The battery was getting old, and wouldn’t hold a charge for a full day.  But a new battery fixed that.

Meanwhile, my 2009 laptop remains in service as my work computer.  I could probably upgrade it to Windows 7 or 8, but as long as everything works, I have no compelling reason to change from Windows XP.  (Yeah, I know, Microsoft stopped supporting it in April.  But in all the years I’ve had computers with Microsoft software, how many times have I contacted them for support?  In a word, zero.)

Part of me wants to get a new battery for my laptop, like the phone.  But the other day I learned about a new peripheral device that reads gestures, which requires Windows 7 or 8.  I’d like to be able to give presentations without a clicker, being able to make a little swoopy gesture over the machine to make it change slides.  (I was able to do this in the 1990s, when we had presentations as overheads or 35mm slides, and for a big enough group, someone else was working the presentation.)

So maybe I won’t be able to resist the temptation of a new toy.

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At the beginning of 2013, I had to change health insurance.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the new Obamacare-compliant plan was a few ticks cheaper than the old insurance.  But then I wasn’t expecting a big change up or down because many of the features of Obamacare (no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, same rates for men and women, etc.) were already New York law.  The premium for my wife and me is currently about $1100/month.

Yesterday, I got a letter from the insurance company.  I received it in my office, as the employer, and at home, as the employee.  They’re petitioning the state for a 25% premium increase next year.  Part of the reason for the increase, they explained, was ‘the projected impact of the federal risk adjustment program that was put in place by the Affordable Care Act.’

So we in New York are still going to get whacked by Obamacare, it’s just taking a little longer.

My Last Post

I first kept a Web journal (we didn’t yet call them ‘blogs’) in 1999.   I kept it regularly for a couple of years, and then started to trail off: my new job included a real non-disclosure agreement, and the soap opera of the workplace was now off-limits.

I took out the domain name ‘harderworld.com’ in 2005, but didn’t start writing until 2008.  The premise of the blog–and the domain name–was that after decades of life getting easier, things were becoming more difficult.  Even then, I never wrote regularly, as I have been just too busy.  Nevertheless, I continued to write when I had a calm moment, and something genuinely interesting crossed my mind.  In fact, today’s paper brought a story that I would have liked to write about.

But I won’t, and I don’t expect to write any more posts in at least the near future.  I could simply slink away and let the site close, but I feel the need to put an explanation on the record, even if nobody will read it and even if I’m shooting myself in the foot by writing it.

Last year we learned, as a fact, what we long suspected: the National Security Agency has been collecting, among other things, everything transacted over the Internet in the name of protecting us against terrorists.

For now, I don’t expect our leadership to run around reading everyone’s blog posts and locking people up.  The leadership hasn’t gotten to that point, and the technology isn’t quite there yet.

But the trends are inexorable: computers are getting faster and cheaper, and in the name of protecting the nation’s health, now that we effectively have nationalized health insurance, it seems inevitable that the government will examine what people post on the Internet, and take action, all for their own good, of course.

So in brief, I don’t see that continuing to write here will do me any good.   I’m concerned that, at some time in the future, someone–or something–might review these posts and decide that I’m mentally unstable, or a racist, or God knows what.

Take care, and be well.

Nanny State (1 of 2)

The New York State Senate (S.6779) and Assembly (A.8688) are contemplating a bill that would require the following:

A WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR UPON REQUEST  SHALL  REMOVE  ANY  COMMENTS POSTED ON HIS OR HER WEB SITE BY AN ANONYMOUS POSTER UNLESS SUCH ANONYMOUS POSTER AGREES TO ATTACH HIS OR HER NAME TO THE  POST  AND  CONFIRMS THAT HIS OR HER IP ADDRESS, LEGAL NAME, AND HOME ADDRESS ARE ACCURATE.  ALL WEB SITE ADMINISTRATORS SHALL HAVE A CONTACT NUMBER OR E-MAIL ADDRESS  POSTED  FOR SUCH  REMOVAL REQUESTS, CLEARLY VISIBLE IN ANY SECTIONS WHERE COMMENTS ARE POSTED.

In the definitions, an ‘anonymous poster’ is in fact anyone who posts on a blog (like this one) or any Web site that solicits comments.  If you identify yourself in your posts, you’re still anonymous.   Although I don’t use my real name in my posts, it’s easy enough to find it.  So for the purposes of the bill, this is an anonymous post.  And the bill does not distinguish between posts (which appear on the home page and have titles) and comments (written in response to posts or other comments).

I try to be a good citizen, even when I think the law is stupid.  So what would I have to do?

  • Set up an e-mail address for removals (trivial).
  • Place the address so that it appears on every page with posts or comments (probably not too difficult).
  • Monitor the address for removal requests (taking a small amount of time, but probably not a major problem).
  • On receipt of a request for removal, do one of the following:
    • Contact the original poster or commenter, and ask for his legal name, home address, and IP address.  (I don’t like doing this, but I don’t like the alternative either.  So I’ll ask.  I believe that anyone capable of writing a post knows his or her name and home address, but the IP address is trickier.  The system records IP addresses for comments, but not for posts.  Some of the more tech-savvy readers can find out their Internet IP address easily enough, while I can write instructions for others.  But the address you find through this procedure may not be the IP address that you used when you wrote your post or comment.)  If the poster/commenter supplies this information, then either he or I must append his name to the post/comment.Otherwise, we fall through to the second alternative, which is:
    • Delete the post/comment in question.

By the way, I learned English grammar from the old Warriner book, which indicated that one uses the masculine form of the pronoun when referring to a person whose gender is unknown.  I know that many of the followers of this site are women, and I don’t mean for anyone to feel slighted, or believe that they might be exempt from the requirement to identify themselves.

Now there some obvious holes:

  • How do I know that the request to remove something represents a valid complaint against specific posts or comments?  I don’t: the bill admits no effort on the part of Web site administrators to verify the authenticity of a removal request.  I cannot contact the party requesting a removal and ask him to confirm his legal name, home address, or IP address.  If someone told me to remove everything, as they feel insulted by all of the content on this site, according to the bill, I would have to comply.  (OK, maybe the category headings could stay, as they’re not actually ‘comments.’)
  • How do I know that the poster/commenter will give me correct information?  In fact, I don’t.  But there is no requirement that I verify further.
  • When I do remove content as required by this bill, can I include a note, ‘Removed per direction of Joe Blow’?  The bill is silent on this point.  (Of course, Joe Blow could write back and ask me to remove the note, as well.)

I would write to my state legislators, but I know they’re useless.  And even if the measure got defeated this year, I’m sure it will return in the next session.

Perhaps it’s time to move to New Jersey.

A New Chapter

Once upon a time, when I started keeping a Web journal (we didn’t yet call them ‘blogs’) back in 1999, I had time pretty much every day to write something interesting about the world around me.  It was a way to vent, and while I hoped that some pretty girl would read my stuff and become enchanted with me, I recognized that it would be a long shot.  (I ultimately did find the pretty girl, though; we’ve now been married for 11 years.)

Now, in 2012, I have too many things to do, and too little time and energy to do them all.   I’ve been lucky if I can write two posts a month.  From time to time, I’ve considered pulling the plug on this site.

I’ve written about the Bait and Switched forum at the Barbara Ehrenreich Web site, and how it was beset by spammers.  More recently, the forum software seems to have crapped out: when one tries to write a post there, one is greeted by an error message.  I’ve offered this site as an alternate venue, and several members of that group have signed up.  I hope we’ll have some interesting discussions about the economy, and the state of the world, and maybe, just maybe, find a way to make this not such a Harder World after all.

I don’t know how this will turn out, but I’m hopeful.

A Little Housekeeping/MTA Bailout

I have been terribly busy the last few weeks, and haven’t had much time to write.  But while I’ve been out, I note that a number of… entities… have signed on as subscribers to this site.  The names and e-mails addresses seem strange: not strange enough to have been obviously generated by a computer, but not like people’s actual names.

I have to believe that it’s a new form of spam, although I can’t understand to what end: if someone writes a comment, I have to approve it before it appears on the site.  And so far, I haven’t received any comments.

In any case, I’ve deleted all of the subscribers that have signed on so far.  If you meant to be a subscriber, I’m sorry; you’ll have to go back and subscribe again.  But for those who would subscribe in the future: after you subscribe, you have one week to submit a cogent comment on one of the postings.  If I don’t see a comment (I don’t necessarily have to agree with it!), I’ll assume that you’re some kind of bot, and will delete your subscription.

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Last week, the state legislature passed a plan to help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  The plan will raise about $1.5 billion through a new payroll tax and  a surcharge on taxi rides.  As a result, the Draconian service cuts that were contemplated a few weeks ago will not come to pass, although there will be some cuts and a modest fare increase.

I should be relieved: while the fare increase is not a big deal for me, the service cuts are a problem, and part of my income as an engineering consultant is derived from the MTA’s capital spending.  But I don’t like it.

One again, the state has papered over the problem with taxing and spending, rather than addressing the real problems.  Why does operating the MTA cost what it does?  Can it work more efficiently?  Given that the operation of the MTA is vital to the economic health of the region and the state, why didn’t the state face the problem squarely in the first place, instead of coming up with half-measures later?  State spending increased by $11 billion this year: what did they spend it on?  And what happens next year, expecially if the economy is still sagging?

But the answers to those questions require thought….

Doing It in 15 Minutes

It’s 7:30 am.

When I first kept a blog, years ago, I had to do everything myself: I had to open up an HTML editor, write my post, then fix up the calendar page.  If it was the first post of the month, I would have to compose another calendar page and do some further housekeeping.  Then I would FTP the new files to the site and check that I hadn’t munged anything.  So there was anywhere between five and fifteen minutes of housekeeping on top of actually writing the post.

My life was calmer then, and most days I had about an hour where I could sit down, write expansively about something, and then post it.  Today, things are busier, but I’m still in the mindset about the wonderful thing that I want to write if I could sit down for an hour.  But there aren’t any hours like that, where I have time on my hands and some good energy for writing.

Fortunately, things have advanced since I was composing pages the hard way.  I don’t have to do any housekeeping: I just write, hit ‘Publish,’ and I’m done.  I still read the page after it’s posted, partly from force of habit, but even that isn’t necessary: the blogging software does not mung my text.

But I’m still in the mode of the magnificent opus that I want to write.  Unfortunately, since I don’t have the time and energy, I end up writing nothing.  I have to learn that there really is such a thing as the quick post, accomplished in less than 15 minutes, like today’s post.

It’s 7:42 am.  So I still have time to hit ‘Publish’ and check my work.

Done!

The PDA Quest

Some time ago, I kept a Web journal (we didn’t call them ‘blogs’ yet) about my experiences as an engineering manager in a really large organization, and a single parent.  It was interesting, but time went on: I got a new job where I had to sign a real non-disclosure agreement (meaning that the ongoing soap opera of my working life was off-limits), and I found true love and got married.  My original motives for blogging faded away, and I stopped keeping it up.

But more recently, things have changed.  The world has become a more difficult place in the last few years.  When I wrote my old blog years ago, weekends were still weekends: I could put most of my thoughts of work aside on Friday afternoon and relax for a few days.  But now, Sunday, which is a workday for my wife (a choirmistress), has become just as much of a workday for me.  I was sick two weeks ago, and am still trying to make up for lost time.

Since I wrote my pages years ago, I’ve gone into business for myself.  I’m earning a living, but it isn’t easy.  Someday, I’ll tell the story of how that happened.  Someday, I’ll also discuss my disgust with the politics of this year’s Presidential elections.

But my annoyance for today has been a search for a PDA.  Ten years ago, I had a Psion Series 5, which was a wonderful machine: it had a nice keyboard, a comfortable screen for composing text, and capable software.  If there were a machine like that today, with a few incremental enhancements (a PDF viewer, wireless networking, and a little more speed), I’d buy it.

But when it fell apart after a few years, the closest thing that I could find was a Psion Revo.  It was a cheap plastic imitation of the Series 5, but it still had a decent keyboard.  Alas, since then, Psion has moved on to bigger and better things.

When the batteries for the Revo gave out, in 2003, my next machine was a Sharp Zaurus.  It was cool being able to carry an entire Linux box in my pocket, and even though the PDF viewer wasn’t the greatest, it was a decent machine.  With a gigabyte SD card, it could easily haul around that subset of my stuff that I carry for ready reference.  But I put it in checked baggage for a business trip, and the bag was never seen again.

So now, I want a machine that includes:

  • a keyboard that I can actually type on;
  • a screen big enough to hold a complete thought;
  • word processor and spreadsheet that can at least take a whack at opening Microsoft Office documents;
  • a PDF viewer;
  • a datebook and personal phone book;
  • wireless networking;
  • a Web browser and e-mail client;
  • and it fits in my shirt pocket..

Is that so hard?

I don’t want a BlackBerry: I’ve encountered too many BlackBerry assholes, who pride themselves on the ability to instantly answer an e-mail, but don’t bother to actually read the message before answering it. 

And it’s not really that important that the device also be a cell phone.  I have a cell phone: I talk to people on it.  If someone really wants to send me a text message, that’s OK, but it doesn’t happen often.

So what’s out there?

There are lots of machines that do entertainment: playing music or video, with wireless Web browsing and texting.  But they don’t do word processing or spreadsheets.  Am I the only person who likes to sit and compose my thoughts?

For better or worse, the only machines that seem to do what I want run Windows Mobile.  But only one manufacturer makes Windows Moble machines with keyboards.  There’s also the OQO, which is a full-bore Windows machine, but it’s expensive, heavy, and doesn’t fit in my pocket.

Stay tuned….