Not Deceased

So I’m currently contemplating leaving iOS (at least for my phone usage; I’ll keep my iPad), and moving over to Android again. The motivator? I want to give Google’s Project Fi a try. Of course that means my cellphone options are limited since Fi only works with a few phones. So of course, I want the best of the options available, which means a Pixel.

Out of the gate, cash up front, those buggers are expensive. However, Google has a 0% interest financing plan available that divides the cost up into monthly payments over 2 years that alongside my Google Fi bill would still be less, according to my calculations, than I pay for AT&T currently. Cool. No problem. My credit score is awesome. Easy.

So I went online to apply and it said it would take 10 days to process. Yesterday, in the mail (like physical paper mail. Not email.), I received a letter from the bank Google has handling their financing and I’m told that the other entity that they use to run credit was denying my application because “The applicant is deceased.”

I’m not actually deceased (I think; I may be a hologram, but not deceased yet), so my best guess to what happened is this lazy bank confused me, being a III, with my deceased father, the II. Not sure how this happens, given that we don’t have the same birth date or social security number, but it looks like that’s what happened. So I call the only number or point of contact available on the form to straighten everything out and all there is is an automated system where the only options available are to request a free copy of your credit report or pay extra to also get your credit score included.

So anyway, I could simply finance the purchase myself now, but I’m sour on the whole idea and decided to wait until there is a waterproof Pixel on the market. Also, I’m concerned that this clerical error by this one stupid service that offers no recourse to correct the problem will have some sort of odd ripple effect through all the similar services out there.

In any case, despite digital and fiscal rumors to the contrary, I am still alive and kicking.

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A computer of your own…

Make sure you have one. Not your phone, because as computer-y as they are these days, it’s still a phone, and as you grow older your thumb joints will start to hurt from all that odd thumb typing on that small screen. An iPad / tablet can suffice. My main point is: you need your own computer that you control and that you’re the only one who has access to. Too many people I know use their work computers for everything. This is bad in multiple ways.

Life vs work

Because of all the information overload that current day employment now has going for it, we have the flexibility in many of our jobs that are more information centric to work from anywhere. This freedom of space has an effect on our freedom of time. Because we can work from anywhere, people begin working all the time if they aren’t careful. Using the same computer that you do at work for non-work activities leaves you open to constant interruption when you’re not working. Oh, let me just reply to this email from the boss really quickly, kids. As soon as I do that we’ll get back to watching this video together.

Also, the vast majority of employment contracts make several things true if you’re using a work computer as your primary computer:

  1. All the things you create and all the information on that computer is your employer’s property. This means that if you get fired or quit, they can take your computer and you never see the data you had on it again. All those pics of your kids you put on their: not your employers problem if you don’t have backups elsewhere. Also, your employer can go through all your browsing history and all your past emails. Anything you’ve created or worked on using any of their systems is theirs to do with as they will. Don’t use your work email for personal things. This is hugely important to understand for people working in technology with aspirations to start your own thing someday. If you use your work computer to work on any part of your precious start-up idea, even if it is just to check your personal email and respond to personal emails, if any of those exchanges involve discussion about your precious start-up idea, or work towards it, your employer could argue that they own it since you began it while working for them. Watch Silicon Valley for a somewhat funny, somewhat awkwardly “oh no” moment about this.
  2. Your employer can legally spy on everything you do on your work computer. Most don’t. But they can. They don’t have to wait until you’re no longer working for them to go through your emails or your browsing history etc. You’re working digitally in their space when you’re using a work computer. Just like walking into an office with security cameras. Keep that in mind.
  3. Your non-work activities put at risk the security of the company. Installing software that isn’t approved by your company or browsing around sites that aren’t trustworthy puts company property (your computer and other computers it interfaces with) and your company’s private internet at risk. You could be liable for any damages caused.

Even if you are a contractor who works for a company that doesn’t supply a computer, I would advise you get one computer that is your “work” computer to use against your work projects and another “home” computer that is for your personal stuff. There can be tax benefits to that structure depending on your set up too. Consult your tax consultant (Insert I am not a tax expert and this is not tax advice disclaimer here).

Compute differently

Several years ago, I started getting Windows computers instead of Mac computers for my personal computers. Why? Because it helped me in my head unplug from the way I work on my work Mac computer and the way I do non-work stuff on my Windows computer. It’s been a good psychological trick that has worked. You don’t have to go Windows if you hate Windows or Mac if you hate Mac, but get something that feels different than the machine you work on all day. Make it your space. Make it your own. I’d also advise ever setting up any of your work accounts, Slack or email, on your personal computer. Yes, sometimes you’ll be on vacation and really need to access your work email for whatever reason and your cellphone won’t cut it. Log in via the browser. Not in an app with notifications that you have always turned on. That again, would muddy the worlds of work and non-work in non-helpful ways.

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Blogging again; Join me

I started blogging again this past week. It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution (I gave them up as a New Year’s resolution over a decade ago and I’ve stuck with it). I started blogging again because it’s necessary and important to have a voice.

We’ve gone through a cycle where many of us had voices that we owned on our own sites. Some were popular, most were not, but it still gave us a voice where we could speak freely our minds and that we could freely control. Then we all started using other people’s tools. I decided I only really needed to tweet. Several people moved their sites over to platforms that other people owned and some of those platforms are already gone. If they’re not gone, they are controlled by someone else and risk going away eventually. If you’re reading this on Medium and your only place to publicize your thoughts is on Medium, I’m talking to you. You need to control your own voice as much as you can.

This site will only go away, most likely, when I die and someone thinks to stop the auto payments to keep it running. Hopefully someone in my family will think and be technical enough to actually archive a copy of it somewhere for their own knowledge of who I was in this partial view of me that I create with these words I control. If not, no biggie. Everyone eventually dies and is either forgotten or misremembered.

Return to owning your voice

Anyway, if you used to be a blogger in the beginning of blogging, I am issuing a call to you to return. Shake off the cobwebs of silence. Dust off your old neglected site. Start having your voice again. Stop only making witty comments on Facebook or Twitter without really thinking about what you’re saying and thinking. If you’ve never had your own blog that you have run yourself, start now.

I don’t care what you’re saying. I don’t care where you broadcast it. But own it. Make sure you control it and no one else. Be your voice. Be you. Not a Twitter user, or Facebook user, or Medium writer or whatever. Be you. Prove the value of public discourse controlled by the people and not by a plethora of various tools that make it all so much easier to do. These tools use their simplicity and our natural tendency for things to be easier, they use our laziness, to control us, to control you. Resist. Do it.

Don’t worry about SEO or all the noise. Be the signal. Join in conversations with other signals. Do it.

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A(d hominem)merican Dis(sonance)course

Listen carefully to how you talk about Trump. Listen carefully to how articles who are in disagreement with his policies talk about him. Listen to how he talked about Clinton during the campaign. Do you hear a similarity? If so, you’re reading the wrong news outlets and you’re thinking the wrong way.

Are you reacting with indignation to every idea, position, or policy different from your own and amplifying that reaction in an emotional response to Trump the individual? When you reflect back on the campaign and the election is Trump “evil” and Clinton “good”? Is Trump “the enemy”? If so, your reactive statements about the current situation are fueling the fire of those who stand on the other side of the issues from you and you’re widening our divide. You’re trapped in the ad hominem death spiral of current American discourse.

Us vs them. Republicans vs Democrats. Obama vs Tea Party. The polarity of our political system is highly problematic already. Add to that raw, finger-pointing blame and no one listens to anyone and no progress will be made to get us out of this mess. We all think we’re right. Now what?

So far, Trump’s policy changes are broadly either very Republican (a focus on America over the world and reinstating policies that began with Reagan) or very typical of a new President (all the things that most Presidents do initially when beginning office, like putting a freeze on all the things that were in motion from the previous Presidency). There are people who believe in those policies. We won’t change their minds by attacking them or attacking the person who is currently enacting policies that they agree with. We won’t change their minds by throwing science and facts piled sky-high to try to prove why our stance is the right one. No matter how right your stance is or how much I personally agree with your stance, entering into a conversation with someone else with a different view strongly embracing the idea that you are right builds a barrier of arrogance and hubris between you and the person you’re trying to persuade that dismantles communication.

Mr. Obama, our Previous President, was so articulate and good at reading those wonderfully well-written speeches, that many were fooled into dismissing everyone who wasn’t happy with his Presidency. If you’re an Obama supporter, think back to how much you loved everything he said and how you felt like everything was wonderful with America with him at the helm and how you thought about everyone who disagreed with him. Now try, for a moment, to think what it may have been like to be one of those people who strongly disagreed with everything he did. Imagine how silenced you would have felt for those 8 years. Pretty similar to how you’re feeling now, right?

We all think we’re right. Now what? How do we change?

I think we change by meeting people where they are and listening to one another. If we see each other as Republican or Democrat or Trump Supporter or Hillary Supporter or Pro-Life or Pro-Choice or Pro-Immigration or Anti-Immigration, we’ll never reach any agreement on anything because we’ve already stacked ourselves at opposite sides of highly magnetized debates.

I’m human. You’re human. Let’s talk about our similarities. What challenges are you facing that make you believe in and think the things that you believe in and think? Here’s how I started believing and thinking what I think. Sometimes I doubt these parts of it. Let’s discuss that.

That’s how we stop shouting, stop responding consistently with things like “lies” or “that’s a lie” or “but the facts are” and build relationships with other human beings and begin to persuade each other.

That being said, I am by no means saying here: don’t protest. Don’t speak up. Don’t say “This is wrong.” We must do that diligently, but if we want to move forward rather than back we need to say this is wrong about the policies without conflating those policies entirely as a flaw in the individuals who support those policies. We need to see individuals as individuals and humans just like us, stop categorizing each other as good and evil and learn to work together to mend and reach compromise that works for all.

Either that or we give up this great American experiment and break up into a bunch of smaller countries and a bunch of people start migrating to where they’re more just like everyone else around them. How horribly sad and boring that would be.

UPDATE: This exactly.

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Unsubscribing from all the things

I really miss the heyday of RSS feeds. After running my own installation of Fever for years (which would periodically get bloated and I’d have to nuke it and start over) and then ultimately moving away from Fever after Shaun Inman discontinued support sometime last year, I’ve been using FeedWrangler, which I’m relatively pleased with.

Remember when you could actually find tons of useful options for locally hosted RSS feed readers back before we really cared about mobile phone support and reading the same feeds everywhere and Google Reader spoiled us all and then Google ruined our lives by shit-canning Google Reader? *sigh* Those were the good ole days of RSS. Amirite, Dave?

Anyhoot, my point is: RSS is great and I wish it were still as popular as it used to be with all the appropriate tools to support it. It allows you to subscribe to and be notified by all the things that you’d like to know about and you can easily skim through items you don’t care about in feeds.

This is extremely unlike the recent trend of email lists and subscriptions to emails… Where you have to open each one to mark it read. Where you have to click delete to make it actually go away. Where you have to religiously click UNSUBSCRIBE if you don’t want the emails reproducing like wet Mogwai who you fed after midnight.

Signal to noise ratio. That’s the problem.

There’s too much noise in modern society and not enough signal. Also, the plethora of signals available thanks to the commoditization of the internet mean that too often everyone is surrounded by microcosms of opinions that are just like their own. Everyone is stuck in their own little personally-nuanced echo chambers that distort our reality and make us think things like there is no way that guy could ever be President and tell themselves lies like “Oh he’ll never get sworn in. They’ll realize something illegal about him,” or “He didn’t even want to win. He’ll probably quit,” or “You know, he used to vote Democrat. Maybe this is all a ruse to get the Presidency and then he’ll get in office and actually be very liberal.” Yeah. Right.

So, yes, what I’ve veered into now is beyond just emails, and is actually inclusive of RSS feeds (if one doesn’t diligently subscribe to a variety of different voices to avoid the echo chamber effect), BUT emails are a key part of the commoditization of the internet. When we all first started blogging, it wasn’t about money. It was about having a voice in what was then a wild west of information. Now, it’s become a sea of advertisements. And they are all targeting you and tracking you and the majority of the emails that you receive (that aren’t from grandma or one of your coworkers who can’t convey what they want to in a text) are actually tied to the commoditized internet and are either trying to sell you something or pull you back in to read more things that they already know you like reading specifically so that your eyeballs will continue to see the advertisements they’ve sold alongside that content, which are also now presented based on things that they know that you’ve bought in the past.

And because of that: I highly recommend that we all unsubscribe from as many of the things as you can. Start with email lists. Start with deal sites. Start with Product Hunt. Start with Facebook. Start with your podcasts. Remove everything that reads or sounds too much like the thoughts you already have in your head.

Do that, and then start looking for other voices that are different. Don’t pick a lot of the same sort of different. Choose a variety. Read those for a week. Then add in a few of the ones that are more in line with what you already think. Have a healthy cornucopia of opinions and thoughts coming in. Then start your own blog. Or your own Twitter feed. Or however you think you can best broadcast what new thoughts you’re thinking from all that input and let’s start having some effective discourse again. Like we used to before we let ourselves be commoditized.

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