One Reason People Are Not More Outraged at NSA Surveillance

My fellow web people will relate to this one.

Several times in my career, someone, usually a senior marketing executive, has asked me whether we can collect the email addresses of everyone who visits the company website. Not “can you set up a form where users submit their email address?” but “does the website do this automatically?”

They were not thinking through the implications of this question. They were not considering that if we could do this, so could every other website, and therefore their email address had already been collected thousands of times.

It’s not that they’re dumb; they just wanted to know if we could send email to our site visitors. And to them, as with most people, technology is a black hole. No one knows how it works.

So, at least on a subconscious level, many people, if not most people, assume that their personal data is being constantly collected.

Which, it turns out, it is.

Mandatory Retirement for Old White Dudes

Baby Boomers have decided to live forever and the net result will be more old white dudes ruining the planet. These old white dudes believe factory smog is a sign of progress, that being called a racist is worse than being a victim of actual racism, and that women should be forced to bear children.

Some of these old white dudes will still hold elected office when I become an old white dude myself. This has to stop.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Gen-Xer with Boomer parents (which tempers my cynicism with over-inflated self-esteem), but I think the younger generations are mostly getting it right.

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Source: League of Conservative Voters

So, young people: If you want to accelerate your eventual world takeover (i.e. you don’t want to wait until you’re 60 years old and my generation is still trying to run things at age 80), start now on enacting legislation that forces — or at least entices — old white dudes into retirement at a reasonable age. I’d be cool with age 45 if my retirement package includes free wifi for life, but 65 is probably a tad more realistic.

At the same time, get some more non-old-white-dudes elected. I know you can do it. I have full confidence in you. You have my vote.

Evolve, Punk!

My post last week about heavy metal’s negative influence on punk rock included this:

I get that no band can stay together for any length of time and not want to evolve. I’m all for bands evolving. I’ve stuck with the Flaming Lips all these years. I’ve helped introduce my kids to the Beatles and I love listening to how much they changed in just 10 years.

It turns out I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. This is from a review I wrote 13 years ago of Jello Biafra’s “Live from the Battle in Seattle”:

…I still like the Dead Kennedys all right, and there are some musical numbers on this EP. But these present problems as well. Most rock musicians exceed their usefulness at around age 30 (I intend to retire from rocking on September 27, 2002), and Jello is considerably older than that. On “Live” he covers his own early material (“Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” “Full Metal Jackoff”) and throws in an anti-Microsoft ditty called “Electronic Plantation.” It sounds no different than his collaborations with the members of DOA like 15 years ago. Personally, I want my heroes to evolve. (At least until they’re 30, anyway—then I want them to quit.)

Now that I have passed the 30-year mark and rounded the corner of 40, I laugh at my youthful sentiment that rockers should retire at age 30. (On the other hand, I did indeed retire from rocking in 2002. At least I lived by my principles!) Now, as my kids get older and become increasingly embarrassed of their old man, it’s time to start a Wiggles cover band, or a polka-disco band, or a vaudeville act, or something.

Punk Bands Making Terrible Decisions About Heavy Metal

ImagePunk rock is now firmly established as an aesthetic choice: groups forming today draw from a range of influences, all downloadable from iTunes, and make decisions accordingly. But many punk bands were great because their members had no choice but to play punk rock. Either they were too musically incompetent, or too fucking angry — or both, ideally — to play anything else but three-chord, loud, fast, verse-chorus-verse-chorus anthems. 

But what happened when some of those pre-iTunes punk bands, like, practiced together for a few years? Their musicianship improved. And often their increased competence led to some VERY BAD DECISIONS. And by VERY BAD DECISIONS, I mean heavy metal. 

Don’t get me wrong: metal is fine. Metal, in fact, rules. My first album was Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” I still love the metal. But punk rock is a minimal aesthetic and heavy metal is maximal. I don’t know if that’s a word, but I’m going with it. When punk and metal mix, very bad things happen. Let’s explore. 

  1. Bad Brains. Have you listened to the “Black Dots” sessions? Holy shit that was some amazingly tight, fast punk cranked out by very young Rastafarians (!) in 1979. Unfortunately, by 1986, with “I Against I,” they had fully crossed over into “metal virtuoso” territory, and went downhill from there. I would have preferred they went totally reggae, an aesthetic that worked well for the motherfucking Clash. But metal sunk Bad Brains. 
  2. Suicidal Tendencies. The first Suicidal album was a thrash masterpiece of L.A. Chicano rage. The second? Who knows, no one can listen past the first song. And Infectious Grooves? They were the worst of every possible genre compressed into a single terrible band.
  3. Ramones. My first Ramones Album was one of their most metal: “Animal Boy.” My second was the Phil Spector-produced “End of the Century,” which sounds like it was released in 1960. I was very confused about the Ramones for a long time. I did ultimately worship at the shrine of the first three albums, but let’s face it, from “Animal Boy” onward, they were a heavy metal band. 
  4. Circle Jerks. I can listen to the first Circle Jerks album, “Group Sex,” pretty much indefinitely. 14 songs in 15 minutes – damn! The other day I tried listening to their fourth album, “Wonderful,” and did not make it past track three. There is even a metal parody on that album called “American Heavy Metal Weekend” but they don’t seem to realize that the whole fucking album is bad metal parody. 
  5. Green Day. “Dookie” is a pop-punk masterpiece. Their followup, whose title no one can remember*, failed because it had too many guitar solos and metal riffage. Lesson to punks: No one cares how well you can play your guitar! I’m told Green Day remains somewhat popular despite their forays into the dark metal arts. (*Oh right — “Insomniac.”)
  6. Black Flag. I still love Black Flag. Now there are two Black Flag reunion bands touring around. Want to know why the the “unofficial” FLAG will win over the “official” Black Flag? Because Greg Ginn is way too metal and smokes way too much dope. (See also Rollins Band: Metal with the vocals way too high in the mix.)
  7. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI). I have never knowingly listened to this band but I have a story about them. When I was 14 and getting into punk, I asked my older punk friend to make me a list of albums I should get (at Specs, the now defunct Miami record store that carried vinyl imports and such). One of them said I should get some DRI — “anything but the album ‘Crossover.’” I am pretty sure I know why that is the album to avoid, and what territory it was “crossing over.”

There are many more examples. I will add to this list as I think of them. In the meantime, be punk, or be metal, just don’t be both if you want to not suck. I get that no band can stay together for any length of time and not want to evolve. I’m all for bands evolving. I’ve stuck with the Flaming Lips all these years. I’ve helped introduce my kids to the Beatles and I love listening to how much they changed in just 10 years. But the punk-to-metal thing is not evolution; it’s bastardization, it’s pollution, it’s like when you try to make a kick-ass volcano and you mix baking soda and vinegar, but there’s no explosion: it just kind of foams and dribbles and smells bad.

Pitch: The Last Wingman on Earth

Author’s note: Almost 20 years ago, I graduated from college with a degree in screenwriting. I never sold a screenplay or worked in Hollywood, but the ideas for movies, and the desire to write them, continues to this day. The pitch below — for a slyly feminist buddy comedy — has been gathering dust for a long time. At this point in my life, there is no point sitting on these ideas any longer. So here you go. If you happen to know Aziz or Bill or anyone with a few million bucks, please pass this along. 

VIJAY CHOPRA (Aziz Ansari), a shy computer programmer who co-founded a popular dating website, becomes suddenly rich when Google buys his company. To celebrate, he and his lady-killing business partner/former college roommate, TED WEATHERBEE (Bill Hader), have a night of drunken excess with Google executives in NYC, culminating in a visit to a “LIFE PRESERVATION AGENCY” where Vijay and Ted drunkenly agree to have their remains preserved in the event of their death. (“Hey, all the Google execs do it,” is the line used to pressure them into it.)

Immediately afterward Vijay is abruptly KILLED in a tragic, yet hilarious, accident. (There should be a moment when we think Vijay has died — because anyone who sees the trailer will know he’s going to die — but he hasn’t. Then, moments later, he really does.)

Vijay AWAKES, Austin Powers-style, 500 years in the future, in a society populated entirely by FEMALES. At first the society seems perfect: No war, lots of free massages; the whole word looks like an Anthropologie store.

No-nonsense DR. LISA LEDBETTER explains that 50 years after his death, a pandemic caused humans to stop conceiving male babies. The survivors continued populating the earth via sperm banks but could conceive only more females.

THEY ARE RUNNING OUT OF SPERM AND BELIEVE VIJAY MAY BE HUMANKIND’S LAST HOPE.

(Sophisticated computer programs have identified Vijay’s DNA as “very desirable.”)

The kindly doctors who tend to Vijay are clueless about men and the 21st century. They eventually convince him to provide a sperm sample, but he can’t “perform” in the sterile setting, with crazy 26TH-CENTURY HOLOGRAPHIC EROTICA.

Just as the erotica becomes marginally arousing, a band of MILITANT WOMEN, led by the evil GAIA DEVEREAUX, storms the building and KIDNAPS Vijay. The militants DON’T WANT VIJAY TO BREED. While they argue among themselves whether to kill Vijay, or castrate him and place him in a MAN-ZOO, Vijay draws the sympathies of the alluring militant OLGA HURTADO, who eventually helps him ESCAPE.

Unsure what to do, and intensely lonely, Vijay sneaks into the medical building where he was brought back to life and uses his computer prowess to find and REANIMATE the frozen body of his best bud TED WEATHERBEE (still Bill Hader in old-man makeup) – who died in the plague at age 82.

Ted, the 82-YEAR-OLD WINGMAN, helps Vijay win Olga’s heart, and Vijay and Olga make INTENSELY AWKWARD LOVE (Vijay bumbling and shy; Olga mortified by human penises).

After Vijay and Olga’s consummation, the militants attempt to hunt down the happy couple and Ted. They hide in a series of SAFE HOUSES – each one revealing a new STRATA of the all-female society.

Ted makes an impassioned speech about the meaning of LIFE and LOVE and then promptly DIES OF RICKETS.

Olga and Vijay keep running but are eventually CAPTURED. The militants want to BURN THE HERETICS AT THE STAKE. Dr. LISA LEDBETTER intervenes, and the militants tie her up as well. While tied to the burning stake, Dr. Ledbetter makes some observations and asks Lisa a few questions, e.g., “Are you queasy?” “When was your last menstruation?”

It turns out OLGA IS PREGNANT. When Dr. Ledbetter announces this fact, the less violent militants REVOLT AGAINST GAIA DEVEREAUX and free Olga, Vijay, and Dr. Ledbetter.

With a handheld device, Dr. Ledbetter runs an on-site SONOGRAM and determines that IT’S A BOY! The two factions of society momentarily come together. Olga and Vijay kiss and live happily every after.

Or do they?

Flash-forward 15 years later. Vijay and his NOW-TEENAGE SON have a visitor. It’s OLGA! Coming to see them in the MAN ZOO!

FADE OUT

Alternate ending, to run during credits or as a DVD extra:

Trying to escape a band of militants, Vijay locks himself back into the cryo-freeze chamber, only to awaken an additional 500 YEARS LATER in an ALL-MALE SOCIETY. An ugly man promptly SHOVES A SPEAR THROUGH VIJAY’S HEART.

FADE OUT REDUX

Ridiculously Easy Paperless Organization: The Big-Bucket System

For years I relied on legal pads to keep track of things. I made to-do lists, took meeting notes, doodled in the margins—all on legal pads. When I filled one up I’d stuff it in a drawer and start a new one. When I needed to retrieve old notes, I’d sort through the backlog of legal pads for what I needed. When the drawer of used legal pads was overstuffed, I’d throw out the oldest ones to make room for more.

This was inefficient, but I am okay with a little chaos, as you’ll see below. However, I’ve weaned myself off of legal pads—gone paperless, even—and I’m glad I did.

Last year I interviewed for a job at a startup. It was a nontraditional interview in which I sat in on a half day of meetings so that we could all get a sense of how I might fit into their culture. I walked in with nothing but my pen and legal pad; everyone else had laptops and tablets. “Ooh, you’re old school,” one of my potential-future-workmates commented. (It didn’t help that I was also the oldest person in the room.)

I did not get the job.

I held onto my legal pads for a few more months, until I started my new job at a large tech company last spring. At the new job, there was a months-long waiting list for cubicles. There were several open workspaces in which I could dock my laptop until I got a cube, but no permanent desk. Thus I became a digital nomad, lugging my laptop, power cable, mouse, headset—and legal pad—between work and home every day. My laptop bag started getting heavy with legal pads, and I decided then to go paperless.

Desktop/Laptop Organization

The only software I use for paperless organization is Microsoft OneNote. Before you start laughing, or Googling this program you have never head of, let me say that the software doesn’t matter. I started experimenting with OneNote and liked its flexible interface for managing lots of buckets of information. I organized notes according to work life and personal life, and then I created subcategories within each of those big buckets. In the end, none of my organization mattered because I use only one category 90% of the time. A simpler program would have done the trick. One nice thing about OneNote, though, is that it auto-saves everything and does not add clutter to your file folders. There are no separate OneNote files. Everything is available when you open the program.

So what is the one category I use 90% of the time? Meeting notes.

Most office jobs, for better or worse, are propelled by your meeting schedule. Despite all the categories I created for my notes, I found that most notes were getting dumped into a catch-all I’d created to document my meetings. Who participated? What was it about? What was decided? It became redundant to create separate to-do lists because most of my to-dos stemmed from what I committed to during meetings.

Whether or not meetings are central to your work life, the point is to create the largest and fewest possible buckets of information. Any organizational system that involves meticulous curation is destined to fail. (For me, at least).

One folder to rule them all

To organize my documents I use just one folder. It’s the default “Documents” folder in Windows 7. In other words, I don’t organize documents at all. I have tried organizing them into subfolders, but every subfolder requires an additional click and additional brainpower to try to remember where I put something. Having one folder sounds messy, but since every OS allows you to sort by most recent, alphabetically, or by file type, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. My folder defaults to show files by recency, so 90% of the files I need are always at the top. I never spend more than 30 seconds looking for anything. It sounds crazy but it works. It will continue to work even after years of accrued files because, again, most of what I need is something I’ve accessed recently. If I still have this folder in 10 years, and it has thousands of files, I might create an archive folder. Might.

Email

I cannot stand Inbox Zero. Email is another place to apply the “big bucket” system. I have a couple of folders for the few emails I want to save:

  1. Save—This is where I save stuff I want to save. It doesn’t really matter what goes in here, just that it’s important enough to want to reference later.
  2. Review—This is where I drop messages I want to reference again at the time of my next performance review. Congratulations on completed projects, compliments from bosses and coworkers, anything that might bolster my case when it comes time to ask for a raise.

As for everything else? I let my inbox pile up, periodically deleting everything older than a couple months. Using this method I have never lost anything important and never wasted time organizing anything.

Mobile

When I was freelance, I spent a lot more time trying to organize things on my mobile device. Like a lot of people, I tried Evernote and found it too unwieldy. Other people swear by Evernote. One app I did like was Springpad. It’s lighter-weight than Evernote and also has a Chrome plugin so you can sync your mobile device to your web browser—meaning you can add a note to the app directly from your desktop web browser. I mainly used Springpad to keep track of books and movies I wanted to check out, gift ideas, and other personal lists. I didn’t use it for work but I’m sure it could be handy there too. Just don’t let it trap you into too many folders.

Trust Your Brain

The over-arching theme of the big-bucket system is to trust your brain. Not to insult the hyper-organized among you, but I think people who are super-anal about organization are often afraid of their own brains. It’s scary to let go and use the force. But one day science will (probably) conduct a study that demonstrates that there’s a 42% chance that over-reliance on to-do lists leads to early-onset Alzheimer’s. Just sayin’.

300 Million

This is a must-read post by the writer Larry Correia on the state of gun control in the United States.

It offers something I’ve been looking for: The reasoned, intelligent, conservative opinion on firearms and gun-control legislation. It makes a strong case that teachers should be allowed to be armed:

I personally taught [concealed weapons instruction to] several hundred teachers. I quickly discovered that pretty much every single school in my state had at least one competent, capable, smart, willing individual.

 That gun-free school zones don’t act as a deterrent:

The only people who obey No Guns signs are people who obey the law. People who obey the law aren’t going on rampages.

That the media plays a dangerous role:

If you can kill enough people at one time, you’ll be on the news, 24/7, round the clock coverage. You will become the most famous person in the world. Everyone will know your name. You become a celebrity. Experts will try to understand what you were thinking. Hell, the President of the United States, the most important man in the world, will drop whatever he is doing and hold a press conference to talk about your actions, and he’ll even shed a single manly tear.

You are a star.

That weapons bans don’t work:

The US banned assault rifles once before for a decade and the law did absolutely nothing. I mean, it was totally, literally pointless. The special commission to study it said that it accomplished absolutely nothing. (except tick a bunch of Americans off, and as a result we bought a TON more guns) And the reason was that since assault weapon is a nonsense term, they just came up with a list of arbitrary features which made a gun into an assault weapon.

That comparisons to other countries aren’t valid:

Australia had a mass shooting and instituted a massive gun ban and confiscation (a program which would not work here, which I’ll get to, but let’s run with it anyway.). As was pointed out to me on Facebook, they haven’t had any mass shootings since. However, they fail to realize that they didn’t really have any mass shootings before either.

That “gun culture” is not a niche, or outside the mainstream:

The gun culture is who protects our country. Sure, there are plenty of soldiers and cops who are issued a gun and who use it as part of their job who could care less. However, the people who build the guns, really understand the guns, actually enjoy using the guns, and usually end up being picked to teach everybody else how to use the guns are the gun culture.

It really is a thorough, considered post and you should read the whole thing. There has probably already been a point-by-point dissection of his arguments somewhere, but I found it extremely educational and it made me feel less ignorant about guns and gun culture.

What’s alarming to me is that Larry Correia is probably right about most things. And I say that as a liberal. It confronts the reality of 300 million guns circulating the country. Any attempt to regulate or remove them will only result in more demand. It’s a nihilistic view but one based in fact.

What’s missing is any analysis of, or concern for, how we got here—how we got to 300 million guns. How did we, as a culture, fail—and I do consider it a failure—on this point? How did the 2nd Amendment morph into “all citizens who are not criminally insane are entitled to legally carry weapons of mass destruction at all times”? Weren’t the framers of the constitution wrong about other things that have since been overturned? Maybe it’s time to scrap the constitution, or, as Thomas Jefferson wanted, write a new one every generation.

Corriea’s viewpoint also represents an inversion of the traditional Liberal vs. Conservative dichotomy. On guns, it’s the liberals, not conservatives “standing athwart history yelling Stop.” On guns, liberals wish we could go back in time to when the most deadly weapon was a musket, or a sword, or a rock. But that’s not reality. The reality is: 300 million guns in this country alone. Correia doesn’t seem to have any problem with this. I do, and so does at least half the country.

I’ve had a gun pointed at me twice. The first was while walking with friends at night outside the bustling nightclubs on Miami Beach in the early 90s. By the time I noticed that the man standing on the sidewalk in front of me was brandishing a HUGE Dirty Harry-style revolver, I’d practically bumped into him. I hurried past and he shouted “You’d better stop right there!” Something inside me said to keep walking—not to run, but to walk briskly away. I glanced back and the guy was taking aim at us. We walked another block, found a payphone, and called the cops. (The 911 operator was unhelpful; she wanted me to give my name and file charges; I just wanted someone to come and stop the gun-wielding maniac.)

The second time, the gun was not so much pointed at me as revealed to me—almost lazily. I was working the morning shift at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Coral Gables. At around 10 a.m. a guy walked into the lobby, opened his fanny pack (!), showed me a small gun, and asked for money. I gave him the money from the till, plus five dollars from my wallet, and he left.

I don’t think carrying a firearm would have helped me in either case. Perhaps if I’d been armed I would also have been in a heightened state of alertness and identified the risk before it was too late to react. But it’s impossible to know that. In the first instance, I would not want to fire a weapon on a crowded street. In the second, the money from the motel’s till was not worth a firefight.

There was another incident at the motel, in which a wannabe date-rapist tried literally to drag a struggling young woman from his car to a room. I called 911 and tried to defuse the situation until the cops arrived—which, fortunately for everyone, was quickly. Had they not, I must admit having a weapon might have helped the situation. It could also have made it much, much worse. Again, impossible to know.

Correia makes a pretty good case that attempts to confiscate or regulate guns—to reduce supply—will not be very effective; the genie is out of the bottle. 300 million guns are already in the wild. But there are commonsense regulations most people on both sides could agree to. Closing the so-called gun-show loophole is one, despite what the commenters on Correia’s post would have you believe.

So if we can’t reduce supply, what about demand? What can we do to make guns seem quaint, antiquated, uncool—relegated to the fringes of society (as we liberals would like to believe they already are)? This is a problem that will take generations to solve. There may be hope as more people move from rural to urban areas. In the long term, guns in the US could be treated like another leading killer—cigarettes—whose consumption is decreasing among young adults (PDF).

However this problem is approached, both sides need to concede that (a) there are 300 million firearms that are impossible to get rid of and (b) “more guns” is not the solution to reducing gun violence.