Saturday, November 10, 2007

If All Else Fails

My work (in one of the facets of my, um, multifaceted existence) often requires me to send e-mail to this or that list of Usual Suspects. I believe the bizarre term for this is "burst" e-mail, which makes no sense to me: if it's gonna take me upwards of 20 minutes to get the silly thing in the air, how can it be "bursting"? But I digress.

I have noted, in undertaking the above, both a strange quirk of human nature (and if not strange, at least odd) and a glaring oversight in the version of Groupwise that my employer uses, to wit: Groupwise 6-point-whatever has no "reply to" feature; and no matter how many times I encourage my "burstees" to contact such-and-such source with questions or comments, they invariably hit the reply button and land back in my inbox.

Yes, I realize there are products and services on the market that will do burst e-mail for us, and someday we might come to that. But really, as things now stand, it would be a waste of money for us make a purchase for that sole purpose (we don't do enough, nor often enough). And it would deprive me of the perverse fun of replying to the Usual Suspect, "As indicated in the original message, you should contact X at Y for more information..."

Anyhow, wouldn't it make just as much sense for Groupwise to incorporate a reply-to feature? That would also solve the in-house problem I've encountered, viz., I forward a message to a co-worker, who then replies by, you know, hitting "reply"...which replies to me!

I've written to Novell to encourage them to add the feature to a future release; I wouldn't think it an impossibility, since the free e-mail client I use in real life, Thunderbird, has the feature and it works like a charm.

Of course, so too would reading the line in my e-mail that says If you have any questions, contact X--which usually includes a link and everything--but I once again fly in the face of human nature. Or human alliteracy.

Survey Says...

So here comes another one of the online surveys I sometimes like to take (in return for being entered into a cash drawing that I never win). I click here and click there, and am rewarded with a screen that tells me I must use Internet Explorer to continue. Well, I don't much like Internet Exploder: I use Firefox for web-browsing on both my Mac and the PCs I am forced to use in work settings.

Usually--for this happens occasionally with these surveys--that screen is the end of things, for I won't switch to IE just to take a survey. But on this occasion I noted that there was a "continue" button at the bottom of the screen. So I clicked it. And was taken to the next page of the survey...and the next...and so on. In the end, I didn't qualify for the full survey, but I got the screen telling me I had received "partial credit" and would be entered into a drawing for a lesser prize that I won't win.

Leaving me with this question: Why did they tell me I couldn't proceed without IE when, clearly, I could...and did? Was it a simple mistake? Or some kind of corporate arrangement, a more-strongly-worded version of the "best viewed with" legend we see from time to time online.

Whatever the explanation, I file this under "N" for "not my problem."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Weird, Yes, but...

This in today's New York Times:

November 8, 2007
In a Surprise, Pat Robertson Backs Giuliani

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 — They could compete for strangest bedfellows of 2008.

Rudolph W. Giuliani is a supporter of gay and abortion rights who is building his Republican primary campaign around his response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Pat Robertson, the Christian conservative broadcaster, once said permissiveness toward homosexuality and abortion led to God’s “lifting his protection” to allow those attacks.

But there they were Wednesday morning, Mr. Robertson endorsing Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, as “an acceptable” Republican “who can win the general election.”

It was the latest manifestation of the deep divide in the Christian conservative movement over how to balance politics and principle in the coming era after President Bush, who once so deftly brought it all together.

Many former Christian conservative allies dismissed the endorsement as an inexplicable stunt. They noted that Mr. Robertson, 77, had lost much of his influence since the heady days of his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses 20 years ago when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination.

And so on. Read the whole thing here.

As you know, I like a good weird news story as much as the next guy, but this one is so weird--the abortion angle alone tips it right off the scale--that I have to give it some thought (unlike, say, the Times's story about the priest who's been stalking Conan O'Brien). And here's what I come up with:

Is it--perhaps--possible (just barely possible) that Pat Robertson has some glimmer of realization, a hint of a notion of an innuendo, that nothing in this world can ever move forward so long as the "Christian" right-wingnut camp clings to its take-no-prisoners attitude toward the abortion issue? Is it--perhaps--possible that there is a little ray of sunshine on that so-far bleak and gloomy horizon? Maybe? Perchance? Possibly?

Well, no, I didn't really think so either. Oh, well...nice thought, wasn't it?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Who Gets to Be the Bigger Jerk?

From today's New York Times: "Devices Enforce Cellular Silence, Sweet but Illegal" by Matt Richtel:

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 2 — One afternoon in early September, an architect boarded his commuter train and became a cellphone vigilante. He sat down next to a 20-something woman who he said was “blabbing away” into her phone.

“She was using the word ‘like’ all the time. She sounded like a Valley Girl,” said the architect, Andrew, who declined to give his last name because what he did next was illegal.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pushed a button on a black device the size of a cigarette pack. It sent out a powerful radio signal that cut off the chatterer’s cellphone transmission — and any others in a 30-foot radius.

“She kept talking into her phone for about 30 seconds before she realized there was no one listening on the other end,” he said. His reaction when he first discovered he could wield such power? “Oh, holy moly! Deliverance.”

Read the whole thing here:

Here is another instance where my superhuman ability to see things from multiple angles simultaneously is a curse. On the one hand, I share Andrew's annoyance--not so much that the woman next to him was "blabbing away" on her phone (all else being equal, I would rather that the person next to me on a plane or train do anything but talk to me but because, in my experience if not Andrew's, people using cellular phones in public places always seem to be yelling into them. On the other hand, I can see the young woman's point of view, too: Presumably, she bought the phone and the overpriced plan with its lifetime contract so that she could talk to her friends! It doesn't sound like she was in a phone-free car on the train; it sounds like she was within her rights to be using the phone where she was--Andrew's big objections seem to be (a) she was "blabbing away" and (b) she kept using the word "like"--but Andrew didn't want her to be on her phone, so he took it upon himself to jam her.

Conclusion: Both Andrew and the woman sitting next to him were being jerks, but Andrew went the extra mile and emerged the bigger jerk. Indeed, it's hard to conclude that Andrew is anything but a control-freak prick.

More evidence from the article's concluding paragraphs:

Andrew, the San Francisco-area architect, said using his jammer was initially fun, and then became a practical way to get some quiet on the train. Now he uses it more judiciously.

“At this point, just knowing I have the power to cut somebody off is satisfaction enough,” he said.

And there you have it--it's the passive-aggressive power trip. Someone is doing something I don't like. Never mind that they're well within their rights: I don't like it. And I need to do something about it. Nothing overt, because (a) they're not actually doing anything wrong and (b) that would require me to have some testosterone in my system. No, I need to do something sneaky, something that no one else even knows I'm doing, and then I can just sit here in my happy space and get my little buzz from knowing that I am the master manipulator of what others may or may not do in my presence. I want you to stop talking: click, I flip a switch and you do. Power!

Seems to me I saw an episode of Twilight Zone like that. It ended badly. One hopes for the same fate for the likes of Andrew--that he'll have an important call to make on a day when someone nearby decides he doesn't like all these people using their cellphones and jams them all. For one of the downsides of the phone jammers is that they immobilize all phone within a given radius, thus inconveniencing innocent bystanders as well as the "offenders."

As is pointed out in the article, such a device could be a real boon to robbers, terrorists, and others who would have a vested interest in thwarting people's attempts to call for help.

The article quotes James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University, rightly opining: “If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people. The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.”

That's probably not true: My observation of Life in These United States is that people don't think that their rights are more important than others people's; people think that they are the only ones who have any rights in the first place.

And I think Katz is charitably overlooking the thousands upon thousands of impotent jerks who are bound up in an insatiable need to ride roughshod over other people: I don't like this TV show, it should be taken off the air so no one else watches it; I don't like this columnist, the newspaper should drop him so no one else reads him; I don't approve of that artwork, it should be banned so no one else can enjoy it.

I'm reminded of George Carlin's riff on the oddity that is the flame-thrower: "At some point, some person said to himself, 'Gee, I sure would like to set those people on fire over there. But I'm way to far away to get the job done. If only I had something that would throw flame on them."

I suppose we should be thankful that Andrew didn't have a flame-thrower with him on the train.