999 BEFORE THE CRASH – STATS AND STATS

Stats OverallShortly before our ISP crashed and burned last night, I took a look at my statistics. Just before midnight, I had 999 followers. WordPress followers. Not including comment followers, Tumbler, Twitter, Facebook or anything else. On my most active day in November — a good month statistically and quality-wise — I got 300 hits from 162 people.

Where are the other 838 followers? I know I’m not the only one to ask this question. I have no doubt more than half of them are spammers, hoping to find a way to hook me for some nefarious purpose. Some are impulse follows. They liked a picture or a post and clicked follow, but have no enduring interest and never visit again.

Let’s say that accounts for 75% of what today’s statistics show as 1004 followers.

Despite the rolling peaks and valleys of hit counts, the number of people who visit Serendipity is relatively stable. Typically, it runs between 75 and 150 individuals, averaging around 100 on a “regular” day, almost all of which come in during the late afternoon and evening.

What changes more is how many articles they read, how many pictures they click on. Sometimes, the number of visitors is quite low, but the hit count is very high, meaning that each visitor hit 3 or more posts per visit. I feel very successful when I see that. Raw numbers are one thing, but seeing what people really read gives me an idea what you appreciate. If it’s something I’m especially proud of, I’m doubly pleased.

Who is everyone else? Are you real? Do you look at the email but never come to the site? Are you following through the Reader from which statistics do not count? And why don’t Reader hits count? Does anyone know? I love using the Reader. It’s a great tool that lets me identify stuff I want to spend more time exploring, but also gives me a chance to “say hello” to others bloggers without eating my entire day. But, great tool or not, I’m hesitant to use it — saving it for when I’m most pressed for time — because I know it doesn’t register statistically.

We may deny we track our stats … but we all track our stats, one way or the other. It’s the only way to get a grip on how well we are doing.

Big Stats

No answers. Still, I’d like to know who you are and what you liked that made you follow … and why you don’t participate more actively?  I’ve never been Freshly Pressed either (are you embarrassed to visit an unrecognized site?). I think am close to a world record for non-recognition.

Whatever brought you to me — spammers, you may leave the room — thank you. To all who come and visit, to everyone who reads the emails or checks me out in the reader. Whatever your reason or method, you are welcome and I hope you find what you are looking for.

Spammers, please ignore this message.

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IS THERE AN APP FOR THAT?

Back when I was very much younger and hornier … like really horny most of the time … there was lots of discussion about The Spot. You know. That critical yet somehow elusive spot on the female anatomy? I assumed I knew what everyone was talking about though I was never sure because we can’t call anything by its proper name. Despite there being nothing dirty, offensive or immoral about correct names, we are still prissy about sex.

This produces some truly bizarre communication problems between the sexes. It’s akin to taking a vacation but not being allowed to say the name of the hotel. You can only identify it as The Resort. You are also forbidden to give the street number. Just Somewhere On Main Street. Good luck finding your destination.

It’s not only men who can’t find The Spot on wives or girl friends. It’s also persons of the female persuasion who (apparently) can’t find it on themselves. Say what? A friend of mind commented that even if the finger can’t figure out which bulge or lump does what, the spot itself should immediately contact the brain with the information – DING, DING, DING, THIS IS THE SPOT!

FlameHeartARTO-300-72

So what’s with all these girls growing up who can’t find it? I’ll bet every little boy in the world knows where his Spot is. He didn’t have to take a seminar. His brain said “Right here!”

More relationships have been destroyed by a woman’s inability to say “About half an inch to the left, please” than by adultery. The same people who fight, argue, email, text and post the most intimate details of their lives on Facebook are unable to tell a partner that he (she?) is missing The Spot. Oh puleeze.

I thought we got squared away on this 50 years ago. Or more. Apparently not. What are all the people who can’t find The Spot doing in bed? Playing canasta?

The time has come for technology to take a hand (no pun intended) in the matter. We need an app for that. How about one for the ubiquitous iPhone? Grab your phone and like a Geiger counter, it tells you when you’re hot — and when you’re not. As you zero in, the Hot Spot Finder App says “YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION!” in stentorian tones. The Hallelujah Chorus starts playing.

Everyone uses a mobile phone for everything, so let’s solve this problem once and for all. Give us an APP for that!

BORING STUFF YOU IGNORED IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Back on Facebook, the site I love to hate. Someone who ought to know better is saying “Here’s a suggestion: To solve this government shutdown, call a general election and let the people decide what should be done. Should we continue with the shutdown or go back to running the government? Sounds simple to me!”

Election day 2012

And getting the response:  “What’s simple to us is hard for our elected officials!”

It’s not hard for our elected officials. It’s impossible and illegal for our officials — elected and otherwise.

Not only that, but we do not have any mechanism that allows a plebiscite wherein everyone gets to voice his or her opinion and The Government has to Abide by Our Vote. How would that work, exactly? To which part of our legal system does that belong? Judicial? Legislative? Executive?

I’m pretty sure we have to pass laws via the legislature. To change laws, we have to get rid of old laws via the judicial branch and/or enact new laws. Which brings us back to the legislative branch. Or to put it another way — congress. If you don’t like the bozos in congress, don’t vote for them. What? You didn’t vote? Well then. I guess you got what you deserve.

The executive branch (aka The President) can’t enact laws. He can use his influence to try to get congress to create laws he likes. He can veto laws he dislikes although presidents do not use their veto much. It’s a thing. Oh, and congress can overturn a veto if enough members of congress agree. Like that’s going to happen.

So — after we have this entirely illegal “public opinion election,” who will enforce “the will of the people”? To the best of my knowledge, there is no force of law to public opinion. There never has been.

Returning to Facebook, I post a little something. Because I love it when I absolutely, positively know no one is going to pay any attention to me. I say: “You can’t just ‘call an election’ in the U.S. This isn’t Great Britain where members of parliament vote “no confidence’ to jumpstart a new election. The U.S. has scheduled elections. Beginning and end of story. The Constitution specifies how and when elections will be held. You can vote down a government in England. You cannot do it here.”

Everyone ignores me. Probably because I’m so smart.

So what can you do about all the stuff you don’t like? Between scheduled elections, you are free to gripe, whine, wail, argue, rant, piss and moan … but you can’t vote until the next scheduled election.

Green is for going.

Green is for going.

It’s one of several fundamental differences between our government and parliamentary governments (like England, France etc.). Americans are always saying how superior our government is, yet they don’t seem to know how it works. Hmm.

So I love it when folks call for an election to change something they don’t like. As if the United States has ever or could ever “just call an election” and “let the people decide.” Even in a parliamentary government — which is nominally more responsive to public opinion — you can’t just “call an election” anytime citizens are displeased with what’s going on.

Somewhere in every government throughout history a lot of citizens are/were/will be unhappy with whatever the government is or isn’t doing. If you had an election every time a bunch of people were mad at the government, we’d always be in the middle of an election.

Wouldn’t that be fun!

You are not required to like what’s going on, but if you want to participate, you need a fundamental grasp of how your government works. The boring stuff you ignored learned in grammar school. Today, you’re all grown up and your government is boring. I know. It’s not fair.

Feel free to ignore me. I should never read anything on Facebook. It just pisses me off.

 

Lips that touch liquor …

Once upon a time, Americans had national fit of self-righteousness and decided alcohol was the root of all evil.  To rectify the perceived problem, the nation rose up on its collective hind legs and passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment established a legal prohibition of recreational alcoholic beverages in the United States. The separate Volstead Act specified how authorities would actually enforce Prohibition including defining “intoxicating liquor” for anyone who needed an explanation.

VotedDry

The folks who needed an explanation were not your average Jill or Joe. Jill and Joe knew how to get drunk just fine, but apparently lawmakers, politicians and gangsters-to-be needed clarification. The gangsters needed to know what they had to do to cash in on this opportunity and the others, how to persecute people in the name of the law. Many beverages were excluded for medical and religious purposes. It was okay to get drunk as long it was accompanied by an appropriate degree of religious fervor or if you could get a doctor’s note.

That left a lot of room — a barn door-sized hole — through which an entire generation strolled. Many people began drinking during Prohibition who had never imbibed before and whereas previously, alcoholism had no social cachet, during prohibition it became fashionable. As with most things, making it more difficult, expensive and illegal made it more desirable and sexy.

Regular folks, society leaders, and criminals all basked in the glow of joyous illegality. A whole criminal class was born as a result of prohibition. If that isn’t clear proof that legislating morality doesn’t work, I don’t know what is. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Whether the issue is booze, drugs, abortion, prayer, same-sex marriage, or term limits … law and morality don’t mix.

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Passing a law limiting how many times you can elect a candidate rather than letting you vote for any candidate you want isn’t going to improve the quality of legislators. You’ll just wind up voting for a bunch of clowns and opportunists who don’t give a rat’s ass about government while dedicated potential candidates won’t bother to run because there’s no future in it. Making drugs illegal, especially marijuana, has created an entire drug culture — exactly the way making booze illegal created an entire criminal class.

There are no fewer gay people because we made their lives difficult any more than segregation made the world safe for stupid white people. Illegal abortions kill not only fetuses, but their mothers too. You may not approve of abortion, but do you approve of forcing women to risk their lives to not have babies they don’t want?

How is that better or more moral? This kind of knee-jerk “lets solve social issues by making bad laws” causes a lot of pain and suffering. And as often as not, you end up legislating your way into a vast sea of exciting new problems you didn’t have before. Throughout history, laws designed to force everyone to do what someone else deems “right” have failed. Monumentally and spectacularly failed. You’d think citizens and lawmakers alike would notice this recurring theme, but remarkably, we seem unable to connect the dots.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

We haven’t learned anything at all, probably because no one is aware history is repeating itself. Many of our citizens apparently don’t know any history, so how could they?

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcoh...

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol

The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and took effect a year later, on January 17, 1920. Immediately, the demand for liquor increased. Producers, suppliers and transporters were turned into criminals, but drinkers were not prosecuted. What could go wrong with that? The entire justice system — courts, cops and prisons — was buried under a landslide of booze-related busts. Organized crime went from being a minor group to a major social force. Progress?

Having achieved results way beyond the wildest dreams of the amendment’s creators, prohibition was repealed in 1933 via the Twenty-first Amendment, the only time in American history an amendment was repealed.

Every time I hear someone on Facebook declare how we need a constitutional amendment to solve a political or social problem, I contemplate how successfully we got rid of alcohol in 1920. No one has had a drink since! The next time someone tells you history is meaningless, tell them without history, they are meaningless. They won’t understand what you mean, but a bit more confusion can’t hurt them. Saying it might make you feel better.

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

This is the anniversary of when I discovered this great piece of real estate. Is it still for sale? It’s still on the Internet, but as we all know, things stay permanently in cyberspace. Regardless, if you are (rightfully) concerned about the zombie apocalypse, this is the house for you!

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Until I started using Facebook, I honestly never much worried about the zombie apocalypse. Naiveté? Maybe.

In my innocence, I worried about other things … the Republican Party taking over both houses of Congress … lack of health care … polluting our environment … cutting down the rain forests … extinction of so many species … whether or not I was going to survive cancer and if I’d continue to be able to afford to have a roof over my head. Some sage — no, I don’t remember who it was — said you can only worry about 7 things at a time. As soon as you add another one, one of the previous batch just goes away. Maybe my poor brain just had no room to worry about zombies,  much less the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse.

But then Facebook became a part of my world and soon I realized that I had been remiss. I wasn’t worrying about the truly important stuff. What WOULD I do when the crazed zombies attacked?

When I saw this property for sale, I realized the solution was at hand. Suddenly, my mind was at peace. Because I really care about all of you, I am passing along this important information. Maybe we could create a group and buy it, forming a commune that would be a safe haven against the day of The Big Attack.

Who knows? Here’s a link for those of you with the foresight to know a great deal when you see one … plus a few juicy pictures to whet your appetite. I feel so much better now that I’ve shared this critical information and solved one of the big problems facing the world today.

It looks perfectly normal from above.

A second view of the house and it’s sub levels.

It’s when you start going down to lower levels that you realize you’ve come to the perfect safe house.

Aerial view

Aerial view

Just a beautiful house in the mountains … that’s all you see from the air. Near beautiful woods, lakes and streams. Idyllic. Room for everything, even your own aircraft.

And it gets better the deeper you go. Literally.

BelowGroundZombie

Underground, you have a whole complete world. Check out the media room.

Really great media room!

Safe from the hoards of flesh-eating, lurching zombies. Secure? Here’s secure!

Worry no more. We have your back if you have the check.

EvenlowerZombie

 

Amateurs have all the fun

It has come up a few times lately … how to define a professional. So, are you a professional? I’ve seen questionnaires for writers that apparently feel the sign of a professional is how much you sacrifice for your art. I’m quite sure sacrifice has nothing to do with whether or not you are a professional.

75-Books and stuffNK-1

There is only one question you need to answer. Do you get paid for doing it, whatever ‘it’ is? If you don’t get paid, you are not a professional. If you do get paid, you are. This doesn’t address the issue of whether or not you are talented or especially skilled. You may be a brilliant amateur and someone else may be a lackluster professional, but that’s not the question.

Professional is a job classification and addresses your status with the IRS. When I was working as a writer, it never crossed my mind to wonder if I was a professional. I had a job. Writing. I had deadlines. I got paid. The odds are if you are wondering whether or not you are a professional? You aren’t.

Ghost Photog in the Sky

Professional doesn’t mean talented and amateur is not a comment on quality of your work. I flirted with professional photography, only to discover it wasn’t fun. To make my living as a photographer, I had to do what clients wanted and that was … well … work.

Then, this past May, along came Marissa Mayer from Yahoo to explain why they were eliminating Flickr Pro.
MarissaMayerQuote

Wow. When did access to tools become equivalent to professionalism? Completely ignoring the actual definition of professional, she manages to ignore any other sensible guideline and define professional as “owning the tools.” Using this reasoning, everyone who owns woodworking tools is a professional carpenter. Owning a few rolls of electrical tape and a couple of gauges could make you an electrician. Is a plumber anyone who owns wrenches?

Is everyone who owns a computer and a printer, who has a blog or posts on Facebook a professional writer? If I buy some paints and an easel, I’m a painter, right? Everyone who has a digital camera can also make movies, so are we all professional filmmakers?

If ignorance is bliss, Marissa Mayer is very happy.

The single thing that divides a professional from an amateur — excluding any legal requirements such as training, licensing and so on — is a paycheck. If you get paid to write, you’re a professional writer. If you sell your photographs or services as a photographer, you are a professional photographer. How much of your income needs to come from writing or photography? At least some. None is too little.

If you have never sold anything you’ve written, you are an aspiring writer, an amateur, a hopeful. You don’t get professional status until you get the check. This is true for photographers, painters, and all other artists. It’s true for every profession, artistic or otherwise.

CamerasIf you don’t believe me, look it up. That’s the line in the sand. If you don’t earn money doing it — whatever “it” is — you are not a professional. It isn’t about your talent, enthusiasm or dedication to your art. It is a statement about your status. Maybe you will become a professional in the future. Perhaps you were a professional in the past.

I’m retired. I used to earn my living writing. This makes me a former professional writer. My husband was a reporter. He is now a former reporter. We collect social security and pensions, so we are no longer professionals. I was never a professional photographer even though I sold a few pictures and did a few gigs for which I got paid. I am and was a dedicated, serious amateur photographer. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think we should stop worrying about it. In most things, amateurs have more fun anyhow.

Daily Prompt: Whose Planet Is This?

It doesn’t take much to feel like a visitor from a foreign planet. Humans are  good at making anyone even a little bit different feel like an alien.

shadow me

My body is a great place to start. It is rebuilt, an imitation of a human body. Fake breasts with no nipples. Missing internal organs. No belly button.

Yet nothing makes me feel more out of time and place than reading posts on Facebook. The inability of average people to use any grammar, to write in full sentences, to understand that “loose” and “lose” aren’t the same word leaves me feeling as if I have been inter-dimensionally transported to “The Planet Without Grammar.” Forget typos. I get that. We all make mistakes and usually know it. How often I have wished I could go back and correct them.

No, I’m talking about all the millions of people who don’t even know they are doing something wrong because they never knew their own language in the first place.

Then there’s music. I sound like every member of every older generation throughout history, but this didn’t start when I became a Senior Citizen. It started when I was a young music student and had to listen to 12-tone music. This is music?  To me it sounds like Tom cats locked in a trash can to duke it out until only one emerges. Howling, banging, shrieks, crashing, thumping. No rhythm. No melody. Just noise.

I can get into rhythm without melody. I can enjoy melody without rhythm. When you remove both? What makes it music? Please, someone, explain. Where do noise and music part company? My inability as a young music student to grasp what it was about these sounds that made them admirable as music signaled a lifetime of “not getting it.” Whatever “it” has been.

There are so many things I don’t get. Politics. Ignorance. Movies without scripts. Books without plots. Published authors without talent. Illiteracy (voluntary). A society-wide lack of compassion. Environmental destruction for short-term goals which will have permanent devastating planet-wide repercussions. Genocide.

And that old standby, stupidity.

I said I’m an anachronism. I wasn’t kidding. I really am. And everyday, I get worse.

 

You must remember this … Techno Memories

I wonder if operating systems will be relevant a few years from now. Change has been a synonym for technology for the past 30 years or more. Change has driven the computer industry. Change is why we need to buy new software, hardware and operating systems.

Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used machine languages – COBOL and FORTRAN. Decades later, personal computers were still just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then everything changed. First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but it got better. And even better.

In the beginning, there were different players in the marketplace and many more choices of operating system. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen. It spit out paper.

Soon everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. Magic!

The speed of change accelerated. Technology was in hyperdrive. Then came a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to use it. After I got connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around. Mostly, you bumped into other people looking for something interesting. And then came AOL.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.

Then suddenly there were ISPs popping up all over the place. I got a super fast modem that ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there and always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world and I certainly would not want to go back there.

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. I have three computers — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

Eight computers are in daily use and only 5 people live here. I feel that we will soon need to get computers for each of the dogs. For all I know, whenever we are out, they go on-line and order stuff. I’m sure Bonnie the Scottie has at least a thousand Facebook friends.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Five of the seven primary computers are less than 2 years old  so I figured we were set for a few years at least … but then everything started changing. Again.

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the Hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

My bank was hacked and they had to send me a new card. Several places I shop — Land’s End, for one — were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services? Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

If you put the world’s eggs in one basket, if the basket falls, that’s a hell of a lot of broken eggs. That’s not an omelet — just a mess.

I worked for more than 35 years in development. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe by hand. It’s faster and prettier now. You get to see how your document will look when it’s printed, but it’s nothing but an elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.

My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that these new operating systems are designed to work with “The Cloud” … a meaningless term that represents servers located anywhere and everywhere. We don’t have to know where they are; they’re in the Cloud … kind of like Angels and God. We are being herded toward using external storage and we aren’t supposed to be alarmed that we have no control over it.

We use services consisting of server farms located somewhere on the planet. There is where we store our bank records, personal correspondence, photographs … everything. We use these servers directly when we use “the cloud,” but we also use it indirectly because that’s where our bank, our vendors, the places from which we buy goods and services store their data … or more to the point, our data as it pertains to them.

We assume the people from whom server space is leased are dependable, not criminals looking to steal identities and data … and their infrastructure is secure and won’t collapse from a power outage or hacker attack. And finally, we trust our ISPs to deliver the goods, keep us online so we can access the stuff we need.

Charter Communications is my cable company and controls my high-speed internet access, as well as my TV and telephone. I have difficulty controlling the wave of rage I feel when I think about them. How do you feel about your cable company, eh?

Even if the servers that store your stuff are safe, you can’t get there without a high-speed connection and that, my friends, means your local ISP … cable, telephone, satellite, whatever you use. They already have you by the short hairs. You are not independent and you rely on their services. Does that sound like a great idea? It makes me sweaty and itchy.

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business that requires a bunch of servers, a climate controlled place to put them, and a few IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by any standards, unstable — possibly dangerously so. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could as easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

I’m not comfy with the idea of entrusting a lifetime of my work to unknown, nameless entities. Google uses servers everywhere, as does Amazon. So does every other “cloud” provider. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place, either. It is broken into many pieces that are stored wherever it went when you saved it. You will not know and cannot discover where your data is, was, or will be.

I won’t get into how links and pointers let us retrieve data, but the potential for error, loss, and piracy is huge. So, I’m not buying into the Cloud, at least not for anything that really matters to me. Call me cynical, even paranoid … but I think that the computer-using public is buying snake oil. I want my stuff on my own drives. Use the “Cloud,” whatever it really is. But have good, dependable external drives too.

Or, as the Arabs say, trust in God, but tie your camel.

Daily Prompt: Pat on the Back and a Big Attaboy

When I married Garry, it was my third marriage, his first. It wasn’t because he hadn’t had relationships. More than enough of them. Just never married anyone. So, there we were. Me at 43 and he at 48 years old. Really getting married. Wow. We had a not-so-small advantage in that we had been friends and lovers for more than 25 years, but married? I never thought he would marry anyone and certainly not me.

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Scene: Epiphany Lutheran Church, Garry’s home church in Hempstead, New York. His brother was singing as were two of my friends. A bagpiper was there to pipe the guests in, open the ceremonies, and pipe us on our way.

Twenty-three years have passed and old maxims don’t apply. Both we old dogs have learned a whole lot of new tricks. Garry — the fussy bachelor — has turned into a great husband and a true pal. He shops, launders, if beaten with a stick, even cooks a bit sometimes. All the things I can’t manage, he takes care of … including me.

But more than any tasks or work he may do, he has become my rock. As my health has continued to decline (against all odds … I’d have thought I’d hit bottom already, but apparently not) … he is there. Always. Dropping whatever he might have wanted to do to take care of me.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

How do you say thank you for that? Are there enough words? I don’t think so, so I’m not going to try. Not only did I never suspect a man so wrapped up in his work could transform into a great husband (he was always a great date and friend … it was the husband part with which he had no experience), I’ll bet he didn’t think he could do it either!

You’re my better half, so much better than I ever dared hope. Baby, you’ve done it. You’re the best.

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85,000. What it means. What it doesn’t.

To put this into perspective, my “about” page and five top posts account for around 35,000 hits. “The Me Page” alone has gotten more than 12,000 hits.

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Still, the cumulative effect is that a lot of people have visited this little blog of mine, for whatever reason and it’s a bit humbling to realize that’s the number of people in a pretty big town, more than a packed crowd in Yankee Stadium. I know there are people out there whose statistics put them into the hundreds of thousands. What’s weird is I see if I don’t quit, I’ll get there too. Not tomorrow, unless something I write goes viral (unlikely) … but I’ll get there. Because every day, I get around 200 hits, unless the première show for the 2012-2013 season of Criminal Minds is playing — in which case I get closer to 1000 hits (that’s how I know the show is airing).

I am writing this before I quite hit the 85,000 mark. At this moment in time, I’m at 84,958, so I’ll cross that bridge tomorrow. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it ought to be more than 85,000. I’m probably jinxing myself.

Number of posts? Closer to 1500, but I deleted several hundred and I’ll probably have to do it again to keep the website from collapsing under the weight of too many posts. I’ve been a busy writer. Meanwhile, I’m beginning to rerun posts because — hey — I think they’re pretty good and worth running again.

The ups and down of statistics can produce a lot of anxiety, so … you gotta have faith. I don’t just look at raw numbers because they are only a part of the puzzle. I don’t have more visitors or even as many as I did — the total number of visitors is down considerably from the peak last fall. It was the election and the Internet was a wild and crazy place. Yet the overall hit count has remained reasonably steady because guests spend more time on my site, read more posts, look at more pictures. The average number of posts hit per visit is greater than 2, sometimes a lot more. That tells me I’m doing something right.

It tells me I’m writing more interesting stories, posting better pictures. This matters to me far more than raw numbers. To know you come and stick around, enjoy my work enough to read more than a one post makes me feel pretty good.

The numbers of followers I’ve got has topped 400 from WordPress. I’ve got a bunch more from Twitter and Tumblr, maybe a couple of dozen from Facebook (not quite as many as WordPress counts them). A year ago I couldn’t even imagine so many followers.

Followers get  emails. Many people read posts in email and don’t bother to visit the website. It’s a peril of email notification. If you can read it in email, there’s no incentive to go to the main site since the emails contains 90% (or more) of the post. It’s a trade-off. Followers are good to have, even if they only read the email. Honestly, I don’t care if they read my posts on a telephone pole. Where isn’t important.

Sudden drops in hits are alarming and baffling, especially when numbers pop back up the next day. What was that all about? You will never know. One of the great mysteries of blogging. Numbers by themselves don’t mean everything, but they don’t mean nothing, either. A lot of hits indicates interest at the very least. Hit counts on individual posts tell me a lot too.

There are two kinds of posts in the blogging world. There are posts that are highly topical and burn really hot for a short time. Most of these involve breaking stories, current events, scandals, stuff like that. And there are slow burners. Timeless material, fiction, reviews.

Reviews can have a very long shelf life. People keep coming to read them over and over. Many of these are informational in nature, reviews of technology, books, movies. Oddly, reviews of extremely obscure movies do quite well, maybe because it’s difficult to find reviews of them anywhere. Camera reviews seem to have an eternal life. Book reviews of popular authors continue to be accessed months after original publication.

The posts with a long shelf lives gather a lot of hits over the months. One of my top three posts has more than 5000 hits, but it took more than 9 months. As long as the material remains relevant, people will find it. Good placement on Google helps too, but over all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the longevity of reviews in general, technology in particular.

So for all that WordPress doesn’t think much of my work, a lot of other people apparently feel otherwise and in the end, that matters. It matters a lot. My followers, my readers have become a kind of family. We share each others’ lives, pains, joys. We celebrate and mourn together. We’ve never met, but we aren’t strangers.

I still save every “like” and every notification of a new follower. I would follow all my followers, but I’m out of time. I can’t keep up with that many blogs. I can barely keep up with the books I’m supposed to be reading and reviewing.

I can’t imagine how people do this when they have full-time jobs and young children. I’ve never been more impressed than I am with homemakers and career men and women who manage to handle their family obligations, jobs and blogs. All honor to you. You are the real rock stars.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Salutations? Who cares?

WordPress

WordPress says:

Where do you stand on the grand salutation question? Do you instinctively write “Dear…” even to your siblings? Do you drop any attempt at deference even when writing to your boss, professor, government representative? Do you mix-and-match depending on your audience’s status, age, or culture? Answer the poll below, and then, in a separate post on your own blog, expand on your thoughts regarding etiquette in the age of email. Stories, anecdotes, poems, opinion pieces, essays short and long — all are welcome contributions. Don’t forget to tag your post with DPchallenge, so that we can all read your take on email (in)formality.

I almost choked with a combination of laughter and astonishment. And I thought Facebook (last week’s challenge) was silly. But this is so much sillier! Wow.

Why does WordPress wants us to address this as if it were a meaningful questions? An issue? “Salutations” on email messages? Someone really cares? Do they – the good people at WordPress — really care? Really and truly? Because if this is the big controversy in their world, they are missing the point. Which point? All the points. Everything that matters and makes a difference.

Serendipity Says

Mom always said: “You ask a silly question, you get a stupid answer.” You might want ponder the inner, deeper layers of meaning of this classic, yet still charming truism. You guys are not joking? Because if you are, that would be fine with me. If you aren’t, and I guess you aren’t, okay, I’ll tell you.

I don’t care.

I never did.

I never will.

If you are talking about formal communication with superiors, teachers, employers and colleagues, there is typically a standard for email messages at school and/or in the workplace. There’s no need to guess. Just follow the rules. I’ve written guides for students and faculty to deal with this issue. Some schools encourage informality as do some workplaces. Learning basic manners is another issue and goes way outside the boundaries of email salutations. In reality, in any kind of structured setting, there are rules and standards. Follow them or pay a penalty.

The question of whether today’s young adults know when to be formal vs. informal, even know the difference or understand how to be civil is a separate — and much larger — area of discussion. It might be an issue worth discussing.

Short of someone spewing obscenities (why am I corresponding with anyone who’d do that?) or outright insulting me (again, why am I corresponding with someone who’d insult me?), what matters is my friend. The message. To that end, I ignore missing punctuation, grammar, typos, missing words … all of it. This isn’t school. My role is not that of a judge or school marm. Spelling and punctuation matter to the extent they clarify the message. Otherwise, all I care about is content. I won’t notice if there is a salutation or not.

To sum it up again: I don’t care. Not one little bit. Not in a minor way. Or a major way. Not in any way.

Who is extremely polite in email? Scammers and spammers. They address you with your full name, as if you were a dignitary. That is one of the markers to warn you it’s fake.

Are we so cocooned in our little corner of the blogosphere that all we care about are silly things? Email salutations? I think we are better than this. Now, if this were meant to be funny … that I could wrap my head around, but as an issue I’m supposed to take seriously? Good Lord, no.

What’s the underlying issue?

I started out thinking this is a non issue. As phrased, it is. But underneath the question, are serious unasked questions about how to strike the appropriate tone and content for various types of electronic communications. Formal versus informal. Social context. Command structure. The nature of internet relationships with people who are not friends or family members. Respecting boundaries, something about which many young people are hazy. If you didn’t learn at home, you will learn quickly out in the big bad world the first time you inadvertently show disrespect to a boss or co-worker. Or, God protect you, a commanding officer.

Early in the cyberworld, before email formats were standardized, there were issues about salutations and signing off to identify sender and recipient. Today, the embedded format of email programs, from gmail to whatever your office or university uses, is set to handle this stuff. Automatically. And getting better all the time.

When you’ve got an electronic header, a salutation for an informal communication is redundant or optional at most. Email isn’t snail mail, just faster. It is a different animal. So many conventions of traditional paper mail are embedded by format in email from CCs and subject lines to headers. Our software takes care of details. We need guidelines for content. It’s not just about grammar and punctuation. It’s the whole cyber-culture where there are no rules and everyone makes it up as they go along. Until suddenly, that’s not good enough.

Other than a ritual adherence to form without substance? What’s the point? Email is what it is. Now, if you’d like to discuss manners in communication, that’s a meaty subject.

I beg to differ …

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I beg to differ.

Garry at the riverYou can’t? Ever owned dogs? If you have the right treat, you can teach a dog of any age whatever you want. A piece of liverwurst? That old dog will do the tango then sing Stars and Stripes Forever with particular emphasis on the piccolo solo.

But I know you aren’t really talking about dogs. You’re talking about people. Older people and if you are a heterosexual woman, you’re talking about … men. Guys. Probably your Other Half. Him, the one in the recliner.

In my humble experience, you can’t teach young guys anything. They know everything already. Just ask them. On the other hand, you can teach old guys plenty, especially if it doesn’t involve climbing ladders, getting up really early, driving long distances, or turning off the television.

Nan now.

Nan now.

Everything else? It’s all in the presentation. If you can figure out a way to transmit the information without triggering any of his hot buttons? You’re home free. Which hot buttons? That’s your problem. I’ve got my own husband.

BonnieAs for the dogs, anything that tastes or smell like liver works. Or salami. As for our furry kids? If it is remotely edible, they’ll take it. They are not picky.

All summer, they favored watermelon, but with the ending of the season, they are back to backing for anything I have in my hand on the theory that “how bad can it be?” They really aren’t picky.

Bonnie will go pretty far for a slightly used paper napkin. This does not work with men, although I’m told that pizza has a similar effect.

Stop laughing, do you hear me? Stop! No one takes me seriously.

Where there’s smoke …

Among the many inane things we say when we don’t have something witty of our own to offer (hey, don’t knock it … someone else’s bon mot beats out “duh” every time), there are a few genuinely despicable ones.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

It’s a justification for accusing someone based on rumor, hearsay or malice. I won’t bother to address the physics except to point our there can be smoke without fire, and fire without smoke. No multiple interpretation for these words. This means only one thing.

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“I haven’t a shred of evidence, but I’ve heard stuff about you-know-who. He/she/they must be guilty of something, right? Because where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

No one with good intentions uses this line. Never. It’s mean-spirited and downright un-American in a nation founded on the principle of never convicting anyone without due process. Being unpopular is not proof of wrong-doing. Neither is attending a different church, or no church all. Or dressing funny, having a bad attitude, failing to mow the lawn, keeping to yourself, being anti-social or even rude. It’s legal to be different.

And hey, how about gossip, eh? People say all kinds of shit. It can ruin reputations and careers, destroy families. All because a guy said something to another guy about someone else. Then a couple of other guys in a bar repeated what they thought they’d heard, plus a few embellishments. Their girlfriends passed it to their BFFs who published it on Facebook. Voila.

That’s the smoke. Fire is inferred, after which you’ve got all you need to get a quick conviction without benefit of judge, jury or trial. The next thing you know, a lynch mob is forming.

If ever you hear yourself saying “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or words to that effect, stop. Ask yourself what gives you the right to judge. Because you too can be judged and I bet you won’t much like it.

Daily Prompt: Keep Out? No. Come On In!

When I started blogging, I decided I would never write anything I would be unwilling to share with anyone on earth, any member of my family — young or old. Former employers, colleagues, old boyfriends — wherever and whoever you are, this is public. Read it and weep, laugh, be happy for me, be jealous, whatever.

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I hope you like what you find. I you don’t, that’s okay too. Be polite to me and all my other companions. Express yourselves with civility, kindness and intelligence and we will all get along in this best of all possible worlds. In other words, be nice and don’t piss me off.

There isn’t anybody I hope isn’t reading this. I have put a lot of effort into making this a site which might occasionally be controversial, but never smutty, nasty, or narrow-minded. Should I ever wander into that territory, feel free to sharply remind me!

Sorry WordPress.You ought to know, above all, right?  If I am not willing that the world read me, I shouldn’t post it. More to the point, if it isn’t good enough for everyone, it’s not good enough for anyone. I’m no child or a bubble-headed adolescent on Facebook thinking only my circle of friends will read my stuff.

A blog is public. You and you and you and you (yes, even you, over there, hiding behind the tree). I include you all. Welcome to my cyberhome.

 

Improving the Quality of Corruption

DOWN WITH GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION! Defenestrate the politicians!

Right. Sure.

Without meaning to sound as cynical as I really am, please give me an example of a non corrupt government. Anywhere. In the history of government. From the first known government (Egypt? China?) to now. Just one. On any continent. Any form of government, even a tribal council. Because as far as I know, there is no such thing.

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I just finished reading “Imperium,” a fictionalized (not very) biography of Cicero. It gave me a headful of reality check on government corruption and I realized that we Americans don’t have a grip on serious corruption. Now, Rome, those guys understood corruption. They were serious about their corruption. We are just dilettantes compared to them! More on this later.

Boston State House

Never in this world, has there ever been a government free of corruption. It is the nature of government to be subject to … uh … um … what shall I call it? Oh, okay. Got it.

Pressure.

What do you mean by that?

Well, let’s see. Money. That’s a fine traditional form of corruption. Right up there, we have nepotism, a form of corruption whose popularity never wanes. Otherwise known as “my family and friends.” Hey, they just need jobs, you know? It’s not a big deal, is it? Find me a small town where the government — such as it is — isn’t composed of entrenched old families, their friends, friends of family, cousins of the friends of the families, their brothers and sisters in-and-out-of-law.

Okay, how about constituents? You know, like when we tell our pols what we want them to do or else we throw them out on their asses. The stuff you and I want and demand, the stuff we think our government owes us because we are the people who elected them.

Jail 1882

“What?” you say? “Isn’t that what government is all about?”

Right you are! A little question for you.

Does the fact that we want it mean it is inherently moral? Just? Righteous? Even legal? If you believe that, I have a bridge you can buy really cheap.

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We want what we want. We don’t really care whether or not it benefits everyone. We, here, in this town, need new bridges over the river. We need our roads repaired. Sewers installed. A new high school. A bigger library. Screw other towns, the rest of the state and the nation. We want what we want. We want it now. We deserve it. We voted for you and we expect you to make it happen.

Pols who deliver the goods get re-elected. That’s the way it works. That’s the way it has always worked. And always will. If you don’t think the electoral process itself is a form of corruption, you are missing the point.

It doesn’t matter who is applying the pressure — or why. The process of gaining and retaining power unavoidably invites — guarantees — corruption.

I am sure — without knowing the specific nation, people, form of government or period of history — the process and its representatives were corrupt. Politicians did, are doing and will always do whatever they must to continue to be politicians. In some cases, that is the same as continuing to breathe. The stakes get higher in non democracies and/or totalitarian regimes.

Then there’s the urgent desire of everyone in public service who didn’t come to power with a private fortune, to make and keep as much money as they can before they get kicked out of office. Or just plain kicked or put up against a wall and shot, depending. It’s why our Founding Fathers — who were smart, sophisticated, and understood reality — thought it was better to elect wealthy people to office. Because rich people were less subject to bribery. In theory, anyhow. Duh.

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Not everyone lusts for money. Some merely lust for power, lots of it. It’s not less corrupt than taking bribes, just a different twist on the same story. Power is a great leveler because no one — rich or poor — is immune to the siren song of power.

Me? I just want officials to do something good while they hold office. Even though it requires they placate many people however they can without getting caught, killed, impeached, indicted, imprisoned or exposed on Facebook, Twitter or CNN. Cynical? Moi?

I think we should start a movement for better corruption. Require corrupt politicians to use their power — however ill-gained — to pass laws that make the world better in my opinion. And when all is said and done, it’s my opinion that counts, right?

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I want laws that will help the economy, create jobs, lower taxes, improve health care, eliminate racism, bigotry and discrimination. If my representatives line their pockets in the process? Well okay, but deliver the goods. It’s the least they can do.

Yeah, I’m cynical. Totally, absolutely cynical. Accept payoffs and kick-backs. Hire your extended family, their friends and relatives. Please, just do some good while you are at it.

If I have to pay them off, I’d like to get value for my money.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Facebook – An Itchy Elephant

The first time I accessed Facebook was early 2011, a year before the 2012 Presidential election went into a full-tilt boogie. I had never been on a social media site though I’d heard of MySpace. My impression was it was where 12-year-olds went to pretend they were 16. (I was right.)

I was pleasantly surprised with Facebook. It was easy. I could connect with anyone. Everyone. Anywhere on Planet Earth.

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That warm fuzzy feeling evaporated faster than morning mist. Facebook was the angriest place on earth. Everyone had a strong opinion — mostly based on their own or someone else’s opinion. Facts? We don’t need no stinking facts! This is Facebook! MY opinion is as good as anyone else’s (no, it isn’t actually). It seemed as if the whole world was posting angry diatribes. From the left, right, middle and far ends of the universe, everyone had something to shout about. Whoa, I thought to myself. This could get ugly (I was right … it did).

Then I discovered games. I connected with kids (now grandparents) with whom I went to grade school or college. People I wanted to reconnect with. Then, with people I had hoped never to hear anything from again. The good, the bad and the wholly unattractive, all in one basket. Whoopee.

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I began backing away as fast as I could. The games were cool, or some of them anyhow. But the percentage of enraged people, illiterates, the mentally unbalanced, the lunatic fringe — all posting whatever was on their minds (perhaps “minds” is too strong a word, but it’s the only one I’ve got) was too much for me. The temperature was in the red zone.

I continued to play games, which is why 95% of my “friends” (what a misnomer!) on Facebook are those with whom I connected because we were playing the same games. The remaining 5% are family and real live people I know. Some seem, for whatever reason, to prefer communicating via Facebook rather than email, telephone or in person. To each his/her/their own. Who am I to judge? (Okay, I think it’s weird, but I try not to judge.) (I don’t succeed.)

In the beginning, I got upset when Facebook made blatantly exploitive changes to their site. Then I remembered: I don’t have to go there. I don’t have to post. If Facebook vanished tomorrow, my world would not crumble.

By then, I’d found WordPress and begun blogging. The more into blogging I got, the less reason I had to visit Facebook … unless I was in the mood for a game. And of course, there is the convenience of using Facebook to publicize my blog. I may not like it, but lots of others do. I get quite a few click-throughs from Facebook.

WordPress Logo

The thing is, you can’t avoid Facebook. It’s there, the elephant in the room, the itch you can’t quite scratch. Pretend otherwise, but you can smell the peanuts and no matter how much you twist, you never get that itch.

A surprising (to me) number of authors and artists choose Facebook pages in preference to having their own website. Is it because Facebook offers wide open access and effortless connectivity?

It certainly is less demanding to maintain a Facebook page than manage a website. Maybe that’s it.

For me, the open access of Facebook is a negative, a reason to avoid it. I want control over who does what on my site. Obviously others feel differently. Everything has a place and a purpose. Or as Mom used to say: “For everyone, there’s someone.”

Or something. Facebook is the something many choose. Never my choice, but that’s irrelevant. Freedom isn’t just a word. It’s one of my core values. Do your thing. I’m not bound by your choices. You’re not bound by mine.

It’s the American way. And my way.