Category Archives: Technology and Social Media

Anything with wires; Facebook, Twitter, blogging, chatting, phones and such.

Flower power

Raise your hand if you don’t reach for your smartphone before you’re completely awake.

We all have that one thing we reach for in the groggy hours, whether it’s a trashy novel, a daily devotional, or Facebook, to help us get back to sleep at three a.m. or to help us wake up at six.

The night before last, I awoke in the wee hours to the then-important thought that I needed to toss some dead flowers before the trash truck arrived. Isn’t it always the small stuff we sweat in the darkness?

When it became clear that slumber wasn’t going to come back to claim me anytime soon, I reached for my trusty iPhone while admonishing myself, “Don’t think about flowers,” much like the exercise that calls us to not picture an elephant. The first thing that appeared on the screen: an email from 1-800-Flowers.

Naturally, I thought about flowers until I finally drifted off, shortly before the alarm rang. When it did, intending to hit the Snooze button, I turned it off altogether, and fell into the deepest sleep of my life.

The dreams were un-freaking-believable, transporting me to a netherworld I’d prefer to not see again, thankyouverymuch. When I awoke an alarming amount of time later, I was trapped in a dense fog, unaware of the day of the week or anything else.

I watched as my hand, over which I seemingly had no control, reached for the phone. I saw a private message from my priest. It read: “Your flower is asphodel.”

Obviously I was still dreaming. Or was I dead? Was my funeral being planned around me? Was I asleep or awake? What the hell is an asphodel?

When I asked the good reverend, I hope in a more reverent manner, she reminded me that I had registered interest in a Facebook meme: “Like this image [of a flower] and I’ll give you a flower to post. It’s part of an effort to beautify the web.” Ah yes, I had liked her flower and her effort to beautify the web.

One can’t argue that the web needs beautifying; I’ll gladly do my part. The problem is, I don’t know from flowers. In case you don’t either, here’s an asphodel: soft and starlike, delicate and beauty-ful, with sparks of bright color. Perhaps even my new favorite flower.

Photo credit: Flickr user Robert Wallace

Photo credit: Flickr user Robert Wallace

Or perhaps, a suitable mantra for my nocturnal meditations.

Asphodel.

Asphodel.

Asphodel.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas, Technology and Social Media

It’s courtesy, stupid.

Humans communicate far more boldly from behind a wall than they do face to face.

Think about it. Many are quick to brandish a middle finger when cut off in traffic. Even a certain Southern Gentleman I know does it.

What is it about being safely encased in steel and glass that gives people the freedom to flash an obscene gesture or bark an expletive at a complete stranger—even if that person has done something unintentional, such as changing lanes prematurely?

Would we flip a digit at a fellow passenger who butts in line for boarding? Would we invoke the name of one’s dear mother for colliding with our cart at the supermarket? Of course not.

We’re uninhibited with our language on the telephone when we find a customer service rep incompetent or unsympathetic. Would our words be so harsh if we were looking the person in the eye? We know the answer.

If you and I travel in the same social media sphere, then you may recently have witnessed my (very polite) outburst over the way people speak about one another online. While I’ve since made peace with a number of my offenders, this provides occasion to reinforce a simple courtesy: Never say (or mime) anything from behind a wall that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

Tuesday night, when the presidetial election results were announced, my Facebook feed erupted with hateful comments. I’m not talking about comments expressing sadness about the outcome or disappointment in the process. Those are understandable when something you’ve hoped for—even worked for—does not turn out your way.

I’m talking about comments describing those who voted differently. Not aimed at circumstances; aimed at people.

The predominant adjective was stupid, with a few “idiots” sprinkled in. “How can people be so stupid?” “Well, that just proves you can’t fix stupid.” “50 percent of the country just showed us that stupid is as stupid does.” “The idiots who re-elected our current president…”

Hey, that’s me you’re talking about. And, in quoting you here, I’ve done you the courtesy of correcting your grammatical and punctuation errors. Just so you don’t look … well, you know.

In all fairness, some of the bullies and their cheerleaders have simmered down. Some have even apologized. I’m grateful for that and for the opportunity to remember that we all need to put the “face” back in Facebook.

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Filed under Politics, Rants and Raves, Technology and Social Media

Legally bland

For most of yesterday, I had no name, only a number – 23. Juror #23.

While my number was unique, I’m fairly certain my attitude about jury duty wasn’t.

Part of me hoped to get out of serving altogether, to not disrupt my work schedule, inconvenience my clients, or sit still and unplugged for hours. The other part of me craved a front row seat to a steaming courtroom drama. Surely the other 349 in the pool were feeling the same way.

I’d been called to jury duty only once before, in 1992. I wasn’t chosen then either; but I remember two things about that day.

The first:  More than a few of us were reading A Time to Kill, John Grisham’s first novel. The book had come out three years earlier, but it had gotten little attention until Grisham’s next legal suspense thriller, The Firm, came out in ’92. Jury selection was a central part of A Time to Kill and those of us who arrived with paperback in hand were dying to be selected. The second thing I remember:  Even though I wasn’t selected, I felt sequestered. A full work day at the courthouse without any contact with my office was nerve-wracking.

As I prepared to report for my civic duty this week, I failed to consider the technological advancements of the last two decades. I somberly told my friends, family and clients they’d not be able to reach me. I even put an out-of-office notification on my e-mail.

How sick was my disappointment to be allowed full use of my smart phone? To learn that the jury room had free wi-fi? To see a dozen computer stations available for any use ranging from e-mail to Solitaire? That’s no fun.

While I awaited assignment to a courtroom, I made my own fun – mostly by counting errors in the orientation video. (By the way, Montgomery County, the translation of voir dire is not “to see [and] to hear.” It is “to see [and] to say.”)

I listened in on my fellow jurors’ cell phone conversations, rolling my eyes as they overstated the drama to their loved ones and colleagues. I could only imagine their exaggerated tweets.

Finally, I was assigned to a courtroom where I was sure there’d be real action. The judge outlined some basic facts about the snoozer of the case—a personal injury incident taking place four years prior. He conducted the obligatory voir dire, which revealed nary a trace of conflict.

And then the judge spoke: “Madam Clerk, may I borrow your stapler?”

And then I was dismissed.

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Filed under Movies, Television and Radio, Reading, Technology and Social Media

No time to lose

Does anybody really know what time it is?

For a town known to be a center of power, much of our nation’s capital went without at the time of our nation’s birthday.

The Friday before Independence Day, el derecho huffed and puffed and took down trees, power lines, homes and cars in one big bad blow.

We lost power for four days. There isn’t much about this weather event that hasn’t already been said.

But, after losing power again yesterday, something struck me. Without juice, it’s hard to tell time.

We rely unduly on our mobile phones, our televisions, cable boxes, VCRs (yes, I still have two of those), stoves, microwaves. Even our electronic thermostats tell us what time it is. As a result, many people don’t even wear watches any more. I wear mine for adornment as much as I do for information–and only when I go out.

On a recent dark day, I walked about the house, upstairs and down, looking for the time. My cell phone was dead; even an analog landline was of no use since Ma Bell cut our time lines last year.

I remembered that we received six clocks—none electric—as wedding gifts 27 years ago. It was comforting to rediscover that some if not most of those are still around. Then I remembered the trusty timepiece my husband brought into our marriage, a relic from the 1950s, when his father sold shoes for a living.

As time slips away, so does our ability to tell it.

Does anybody really care?

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Filed under Hearth and Home, Technology and Social Media

Inspiration

In a concert Mary Chapin Carpenter once introduced her song, “The Last Word,” as many songwriters do, by telling the audience what inspired her to write it. She observed that often writers are inspired by the beauty of nature or an overwhelming feeling of love. “I wrote this one,” she said, “because I was pissed off.”

Today, all mankind is on my nerves.

Years ago, a loved one made me laugh when she shouted, very seriously, “What is everybody’s problem?” Today I can relate. Surely it isn’t me. (I know, it’s I.)

The experts say that making a list can be a good first step in addressing the source of one’s anger. So here goes.

  1. When people who borrow my books write in them
  2. When texters walk in front of moving cars
  3. Rush Limbaugh
  4. Rush Limbaugh
  5. Rush Limbaugh
  6. When people expect the Earth to revolve around them
  7. When people over-post on Facebook
  8. When people spew venom on Facebook
  9. Facebook
  10. When The Washington Post doesn’t know who from whom
  11. Me, for over-consuming and under-producing — and getting pissed off.

Thanks. I feel better.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Music, News, Politics, Rants and Raves, Technology and Social Media

SOPA opera digest

I’d like it to be noted that I endured 24 hours without Wikipedia. But I didn’t. I got in.

Meanwhile, Internet stakeholders-turned-doomsayers appear to have scuttled the online piracy debate captained by the film and television industries. And judging by the millions of followers they engaged by blacking out popular websites, it appears the U.S.S. SOPA could sink, at least as of this moment.

In my aim to be an informed citizen, I spent way too much of yesterday trying to educate myself on this smoking hot issue, another in a long series that has Americans fiercely divided. As if we needed another.

I actually read the entire House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, as well as everything, pro and con, that was posted on my favorite websites by my favorite people, and I talked live with several stakeholders. I’ve cracked open the Senate version, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA.

As usual, I came away with mixed feelings.

As someone who has lived and worked in the hotbed of hullaballoo that is our nation’s capital, I continue to witness firsthand how advocacy groups can twist any public policy issue in their favor, and scare people—often with little effort–into supporting their causes. And people are willing to rally on a moment’s notice when they’re told the end is near.

Who remembers the rumor about 10 years ago that the federal government was going to impose a 25-cent fee on every e-mail message sent and received? I received about 50 bucks’ worth of messages from naïve friends urging me to help beat it back. They cited a bogus bill number that anyone with a clue would have known was neither a House nor Senate measure. It was a hoax.

I’m not saying the SOPA/PIPA proposals or the death knell the tech firms are singing are hoaxes. This is a real issue with high stakes on both sides. What I’m bemoaning here is how quickly some people who have never read a piece of legislation in their lives take up arms based on panic induced rhetoric.  You can’t tell me that every website user who is protesting actually understands what’s in both bills. I know I don’t.

Here’s how I see it.

People and companies who create artistic works are entitled to the income they earn for those works. And these aren’t just the big movie, TV and recording stars. They are members of camera crews, editing staff, key grips (whatever they do), hair and make-up artists, extras, even the little old ladies like my Aunt Patsy who play the small parts they work so hard to get. Their income is being taken from them when foreign websites pirate and traffic their work products.

I use Google and Wikipedia an average of 20 times a day. As an unpaid amateur blogger, I consider Wikipedia my official go-to source for unofficial useless information and Google my treasure trove of silly images, legally available and otherwise. Facebook and Twitter? Big fan. I’d like them to be there for me. I don’t believe Google or Wikipedia should solely bear the burden of policing the content that flows through them, nor do I think they should be censored. But I do believe they have a responsibility to refrain from facilitating criminal activity that harms U.S. workers and businesses and to cooperate when law enforcement has to intervene. So sue me.

Here’s what I’d like to see.

First of all, I’d like to see both sides avoid playing the jobs card. There are jobs at stake on both sides. And these days in the United States, everything has a jobs angle.

Next, I’d like to see the bill’s drafters do some redrafting to address any provisions that produce unintended consequences. This is a challenge given the Internet as we know it isn’t even 20 years old, and criminals are typically a step ahead of the law.

Further, I’d like to see all of us, as regular citizens playing happily on the Internet, simmer down, become better educated before we panic, and think for ourselves. Regardless of where we stand, on this or any other issue.

Need a chuckle break from the madness? Enjoy  yesterday’s amusing take on what would happen in a Wikiless world, by The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse.

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Filed under Movies, Television and Radio, News, Politics, Technology and Social Media

Tools of the trade

A friend of mine—a Renaissance man of sorts—writes a blog about fishing.

His latest post, entitled “The Right Stuff,” examines the equipment people need for their various hobbies and professions. Also a musician, this man likened fishing rods to guitars, as far as the selection of equipment based on one’s goals and skill levels goes.

While I know as little about casting a rod and reel as I do about playing the guitar, I found his post thought provoking. He discusses why a beginner shouldn’t begin with the most advanced—and often, most expensive—equipment and what considerations go into proper selection.

I know a fair number of golfers and have overheard my share of debate over the need for expensive equipment. My husband, a marathon runner, spends what he considers a lot of money to buy shoes and enter races and participate in running clubs. A cyclist friend pours his spare change into bikes and flying to Hawaii to watch the Ironman triathlon up close.

My friend’s blog got me thinking about my own hobbies.

In 1977 I got into crocheting. I spent about half of the $2.35 an hour I earned at the yarn store on acrylic yarn. Once I spent an exorbitant sum of $6.99 on a complete set of crochet hooks, which I still have but no longer use.

That’s it. Except for a couple of style guides, I don’t spend anything on my hobby. Perhaps it shows.

I suppose I could take up more hobbies, and then I could blog about those. Golf is out, as plaid does not become me. We’ve already established I lack musical and athletic talent, so neither a violin nor a tennis racket is an option.

I don’t care much for stamp collecting (sorry, Dad) or bird watching or scrapbooking.

As I look back on some of my most popular blog posts, I notice (and WordPress confirms) that the best stories came from travel experiences and mishaps.

Therefore, would it be reasonable to conclude that I’d be a better blogger if I had a bigger travel budget?

As I see it, my choice is either to buy more style guides (and new bookends!) or a plane ticket.

With any luck, things will go terribly wrong.

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Filed under Sports and Recreation, Technology and Social Media, Travel