The Bloggies Insult My Intelligence

No doubt many of you have heard of the Bloggies, arguably the most prominent blogging award there is.  I say “prominent” and not “best” because I know a thing or two about the selection process that you may not fully appreciate.

Here’s the official publicized procedure: people fill out a web form nominating blogs in all sorts of categories.  Votes are tallied and then the organizer chooses 200 random voters to decide on the finalists from a list of the top vote-getters.  The voting form asks if you’re willing to be chosen when you submit your nominations, presumably to ensure that judges don’t complain about all the work.

Just look at that face!  You don't need to keep him from complaining...

Just look at that face! You don’t need to keep him from complaining.  (Image requires no attribution.)

This year, I served as one of the ever-so-deserving 200 on the judging panel.

The organizer sent me an extra-special link to my ballot about two weeks before the voting deadline but, since I rarely check the email account that’s attached to my blog, I did not see the message until two days before the ballot was due.

Now for some math.  Each judge reviews the semifinalists for ten categories (out of 30) and there are approximately 15-20 blogs per category.  I’d estimate that it took about half of the two days to load all those blogs.  And that’s just the home page for each one.  Also transpiring during those two days: sleep, job applications, cooking, eating, the occasional potty break, bathing, and enjoying the snowflakes outside my window.  That left me with enough time to click to a second page on most of the blogs I was evaluating.

As you can see, I focused on my judging duties in accordance with the sacred trust I was given.  Diligence is key.  It’s not like I ever promised to do a good job.

Of course, other issues did come up.  Take a look at the judging instructions:

Ten categories have been randomly selected for you. For each, select up to five weblogs (or six in the Weblog of the Year category). If you encounter blogs that aren’t eligible for their category, just skip them. If you encounter a broken link, try adding “www.” to the beginning of it. I encourage you to vote in all the categories available to you, but it isn’t required. If you don’t have time to complete the whole ballot now, you may submit a partial ballot and return later to complete it.

Um… I know this may be a stretch, but shouldn’t a blogging awards site be able to provide links that will open properly?

And come to think of it, is it too much to ask that semifinalists be pre-screened for basic eligibility before I’m asked to spend my time judging?  Or, maybe the semifinalists should have been double-checked to make sure they were actually blogs.  (Granted, some of those questionable websites may have contained blogs somewhere on them.  However, if I can’t immediately locate your blog, you lose.)

Nevertheless, I thought it would be exciting to review these best-of-the-best blogs and see if I could find anything worthwhile.  And so I checked the first category: Best Australian or New Zealand Weblog.  I must admit that I learned more about that region than I could have ever imagined possible.  For instance, at least three semifinalists had blogs focusing on culturally enlightening arguments against the existence of global warming.  I say “at least three” because two nominees were in Spanish (I think) and another refused to load.

I’m not spending my time trying to decipher a foreign language because it wasn’t in the job description.  If I can’t judge the writing quality, you lose.

You never know what task will end up requiring some heavy lifting.  Fortunately, judging wasn't one of them.  (Photo credit: tunnupus)

You never know what task will end up requiring some heavy lifting. Fortunately, judging wasn’t one of them. (Photo credit: tunnupus)

Of course, I didn’t get to delve so deeply into any of these blogs… at least to the extent that something called “depth” could be discerned.  I, like most other people, happen to have a life and it’s relatively easy to figure out which blogs are crap after a very brief perusal.  I’m not giving up my potty breaks so that I can look at an extra few posts.  I’m not even giving up my potty breaks so I can search the blog for a link to archives of posts that were published during the year the blogging award is for.  I stopped hunting once it became clear that many blogs did not include such links.

And remember, I’m not 1 of 200 who are judging these categories.  I’m one of 66 or 67.  (200 judges total, but each of us only judges 1/3 of the categories.)  My voice matters big time no matter how uninformed it might be.

Yay me.

Next up was “Best Designed Weblog” and, as some of you may know, I take a great interest in innovative blog design… even if my own blog’s design is on the divisive side.  I could select up to five blogs from among twenty choices.

I picked two.

Yes, only two.  A few were so seriously flawed that I can’t believe they became semifinalists on the basis of legitimate votes.  (On the other hand, I have an abiding belief that people are stupid… so maybe the votes were on the up-and-up.)  Other nominees were generic and, therefore, indistinguishable from the millions of other blogs out there.  Of course, I could have judged the blogs’ navigation but I really don’t think effective navigation is such an unusual or difficult thing that people deserve an award for doing it properly.

The person behind the Bloggies also decided to randomly assign me the “Entertainment” category as well as “Fashion or Beauty.”  I tend to think that blogs on these subjects are crap even when they’re well constructed.  So as not to hurt people’s feelings, I will not continue on that line of thought.

Okay, I lied.  If I hate your topic, you lose.  That may sound unfair but no criteria were given for the assessment of a blog’s quality.  I figured that my personal prejudices would work just fine.

The “Best Group or Community Weblog” category also focused on a special group of blogs.  I think it had more parenting blogs among the nominees than the “Best Parenting or Family Weblogs” category that I was also asked to judge.

I guess all it takes to become a semifinalist is for members of a topical blogging group to go vote for each other en masse.  Just a hypothesis…

And then there’s “Best Photography of a Weblog.”  Here’s the category’s definition:

Photoblogs and other weblogs with a focus on presenting photography.

Please note that the category name does not mean the same thing as the given definition; the category name implies that all blogs containing photography can be nominated regardless of the blog’s overall focus .  Nevertheless, I did find a couple of blogs among the nominees that deserve an award.  I saved a copy of my ballot so I could find these (and a few others from the remaining categories) again.

Yes, it took that long for me to think “hey, I’ll want to see some of these again.”

By the time I reached “Best New Weblog,” I wasn’t much in the mood to do the basic assessment of eligibility that the Bloggies’ administrator should have performed on all nominees before sending out the ballot.  It’s possible that I may have voted for a blog that wasn’t new last year.  I didn’t check.

The final two categories I judged were European blogs and blogs about politics.  Both had some keepers, especially the political category which had a good share of famous and commercial blogs whose writers surely couldn’t care less about the award.  I voted for a lot of those.

And then I must mention the blogs that were nominated for numerous categories.  Contrary to what you might believe, this thrilled me.  I thought a lot of these blogs were crap the first time I saw them, meaning that each repeat listing represented one less blog for me to look at.  Of course, I did return to those blogs when the category was design or photography or something I hadn’t considered as heavily in my original assessment… and that’s in spite of my suspicion that some of these bloggers may have found a way to stuff the ballot box.

Stuffing the ballot box wouldn’t be too difficult and I doubt the organizer (yes, it appears to be one person) is taking sufficient measures to prevent it.  If he isn’t reviewing the semifinalists’ eligibility, we can probably assume that the more time-consuming or technically savvy measures aren’t being pursued either.

Overall, I found the experience disappointing.  With the opportunity to cast up to 50 votes, I cast fewer than 25.  I follow a few blogs that outshine most of the semifinalists.

No explanation necessary, I assume.  (Image credit: Plognark)

No explanation necessary, I assume. (Image credit: Plognark)

And with that in mind, I would like to encourage all of you who were not nominated to disregard the disregarding of your work.  I can promise you that the awards do not reliably track quality and they may not even measure popularity all that well.  However, I’m sure they effectively predict an increase in traffic to the selected blogs; for that reason, I humbly request that everyone reading this post please nominate me for as many categories as possible next year.  I won’t even ask you to consider the possibility of opening some new free email accounts so you can nominate me multiple times.

And if you happen to be selected as a finalist, please don’t take offense at what I’ve written here.  I am a judge; you bow to me.  If you think I’m a looney or that I didn’t take the job seriously enough or that I have bad taste, I have news for you: the randomized selection of judges results in random judges and not necessarily qualified judges.  Be thankful that I’m literate above a seventh-grade level; you never know who else might have been judging your work.

Imagine the possibilities!  (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Imagine the possibilities.  (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

And be thankful that I didn’t vote by just clicking on random blogs.

Presumably…

Bad Background Images Insult My Intelligence

I’ve spent enough time online to see some horrific blog designs.  Some are a matter of personal taste, which I have no intention of criticizing openly.  However, a few folks obviously have no clue what they are doing.

They’re morons.

In the spirit of enlightening you in the ways of me, I would like to point out some common errors and show you some easy methods for developing better backgrounds.  All images in this post were modified using free and simple photo editing software and I just played with all the nifty little buttons without knowing what they are.  You’ll find no evidence of Photoshop or other costly applications here.  (I’m unemployed, remember?)  Caveat: I do still have a scanner from my grad school days.

Also, you don’t have to like these images; I only focused on technique and some of the creations here are quite loud.  I wouldn’t use all of them myself but then again lots of good images aren’t an appropriate match for some individuals.

If you want “Matchmaking for Blog Dummies,” you’ll need to go somewhere else.  I don’t do romance here.

That said, let’s cut the preliminaries and dive in with four basic rules.

1- Your original photo should have a high resolution. Subjecting images to technological torture often causes them to bleed their detail away, leaving them as limp as a corpse.

2- When detail bleeds away, colors often go with it.  Your photographs or scanned images should normally contain at least as many colors as you’ll want in the final product.  It’s usually harder to add colors to an image than eliminate them.

3- Similarly, it’s easier to reduce the file size of a high-definition picture than it is to make the image more robust.  If only dieting worked that way…

4- Don’t forget to crop your images; if it doesn’t end up appearing on the screen, you don’t need it.  A smaller image takes less time for people to download.  Your visitors will thank you for it by sticking around until your page finishes loading… unless your writing scares them away sooner.

And now the joy of pointing out people’s stupidity.  Item one: people often confuse their original image with what ends up appearing on their blog.  I like my candelabra image over on the top right, but it’s pretty easy to make an awful background out of it.  For instance, tiling the image can give us this:

Slide1Easy to read, right?  That’s why I have these big box-like things on my blog to shield the text.  However, that doesn’t eliminate all of the problems in the example above.  Let’s look at something a little wiser:

Continue reading

Bugs Insult My Intelligence

English: High detail closeup of a cockroach.

I’m sure you know what this is already.  I try to avoid them.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who likes cockroaches?

If you follow my blog, you may remember that I nabbed a free 2-week trial of WordPress’ custom design upgrade on Black Friday.

I promise to comment in my usual cheerful, positive fashion.

I created a new design for this blog with a lot of help in the WordPress forums and a little coloring advice on the sidebar from kokkieh.  The WordPress employee was great and the volunteer helper usually was too.  (The volunteer gave me one incomplete piece of information early on that had huge ramifications down the line, but it’s something I could have and probably should have double-checked on my own.)

So who likes bugs?

La cucaracha!  La cucaracha!

As you can see, the new design is up.  And since I finished Christmas shopping below budget, I can funnel the remaining cash into paying to keep this design.

I will say, though, that I got incredibly lucky on this.  WordPress launched a few upgrades shortly after the trial period started and this caused a parade of bloggers to have problems with their display and their ability to upload and attach media.  I suppose someone at WordPress forgot the first rule of real estate: one should exterminate most, if not all, of the bugs before one hosts an open house.

And in the spirit of exterminating bugs, I’d like to invite my readers to comment on anything they especially like or dislike about the new design.  My eyesight is good, so I hope I didn’t create any readability issues for those of you with vision problems.  If I did, please let me know.

English: An oriental cockroach (female Blatta ...

Some bugs are big.  Some are little.  Most get on people’s nerves.   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being Special Almost Insults My Intelligence

Like most bloggers, I have fallen into a horrible habit.

You see, this blog has looked pretty much the same since I started it in May.  And once again I’ve started thinking to myself that I ought to change things up a little.   However, I always come back to a few hard truths when my mind starts wandering:

1- The blog theme (layout) I use gives me an uncommon header because almost no one uses this theme.  I’d have to pay for an upgrade to get that with another theme.  This makes me special.

2- My blog theme lets me have a background image that is visible for more than a centimeter on each side of the text box.  Because I can have a more unique blog this way, I am special.

3- My background image camouflages the header menu that would otherwise look like clutter.  That makes the military special.

And so I realize that I should, at most, change the background photo’s color scheme and possibly the text box color.  This never ends well.

Here’s the edited background photo I came up with today:

red1point1

In theory, it looks good.  In practice, it’s hard to find a text color that would be visible against my header and this background.  So I changed the remaining color scheme and came out with something truly special.  If you’d like to see some strangely attractive hideousness, check out the result at my test blog: http://www.blacklightcandelabra.wordpress.com  (Warning: I’ll keep it up for a while but I can’t promise that it won’t change in a couple of weeks.)

Inconsistent Statistics Insult My Intelligence

English: Histogram of sepal widths for Iris ve...

These statistics make a frown face. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently visited a blog that had over 750 followers and fewer than 350 page views.

I assume the blogger must think we’re all really stupid.  This person most likely included an exaggerated follower count in the Follow Blog widget’s text section.  It’s not that hard to do.

But let’s look at some other possibilities.

1- This person has lots of friends and family (or perhaps Facebook friends) who promised to read his stuff and never did.  If this is the case, the blogger needs to find some real friends.

2- If the blogger has been around long enough to amass so many hundreds of empty followers (you know… salespeople and others who click “follow” from the WordPress Reader without looking at the blog) and has only garnered 300-something page views, the blogger may need to rethink how he presents his blog.

3- The blogger may need to repeat kindergarten.  A five-year-old can figure out that 750 is more than 350.

4- The blogger may need to think bigger.  If you’re going to fake the number of followers you have, why not go higher?  It’s not like he had any credibility left to lose.

5- The blogger may have entered a fake 350 hit count several years ago when he started the blog and then he forgot it was still there.  If this is the case, how sad that someone thought 350 would be impressive.

6- The blogger may need to advertise on my blog.  Given his expert grasp of statistics, I’m sure I can develop a pricing plan that maximizes my profit and his pleasure.

Freshly Pressed Insults My Intelligence

(365+1)/365 - One Last Bright Idea

(Photo credit: djwtwo)

Here it is!  I have finally written the post that will explain how to improve your chances of being Freshly Pressed. Having recently noticed a blog being Freshly Pressed twice in four days, I was rather curious about how something so mathematically improbable could happen.  (In case you’re wondering, it was the Quartz blog.  One post covered the definition of cancer and the other dealt with Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post.)

I also noticed that the Quartz blog uses WordPress VIP, which means WordPress probably gets a lot of money from Quartz for various services.  I wondered to myself if VIP customers are permitted to buy a spot on Freshly Pressed.  I still wonder that.

This inspired me to perform a non-scientific study of the most recent 100 posts to be Freshly Pressed; this comes out to about 17 days’ worth.  I wanted to learn if a disproportionate number of selectees are paying for one WordPress upgrade or another.  I should warn you that there are limitations to this study: I could only count blogs that use VIP services, custom domain, custom design, or premium themes.  The other services and products WordPress sells are not immediately discernible from viewing a blog.  (I also failed to record one entry along the way, so I counted it in the “spends no money” category.  Because of how I collected data, this was almost certainly an accurate guess.)

And let me also remind everyone that WordPress is a business and therefore they would be justified in giving some extra preference to the people who keep their company afloat.  Those of us who spend no money are a financial liability to them.  Nevertheless, they advertise Freshly Pressed as something everyone can aspire to and they ought to be held to their word.

THE RESULTS:

Out of 100 blogs, 47 pay to use a custom domain.  Some of these may also pay for other upgrades; I didn’t check.  (Technically, there were 99 blogs because Quartz appeared twice.  However, I counted Quartz twice because they had two posts.)

Another 2 purchased the custom design upgrade.  (Overall, there may have been more than 2.)

Another 1 uses a premium theme.  (Overall, there may have been more than 1.)

Any VIP blogs in the lot were not noted because their custom domain already counted towards “pays money.”

According to these numbers…

WordPress is currently receiving (or has received) money from at least half of the last 100 Freshly Pressed inductees.  Although my study came out with an even 50-50 split, I would remind you that there are still VideoPress, Ad-Free, Guided Transfer, Redirect, and Extra Storage services that I could not account for.  Therefore, the percentage of Freshly Pressed inductees who are paying customers may be significantly above half.

It’s impossible to say with 100% certainty that there’s disproportional representation of paying customers on Freshly Pressed because we do not know what percent of bloggers purchase upgrades.  Based on anecdotal evidence, the 47% figure for custom domains seems awfully high, though.

So if you want to be Freshly Pressed, an effective first step might be to buy a custom domain.

And finally…

The tendency towards paying customers might partly explain why so many of us are often less than impressed with the results of browsing the Freshly Pressed selections.  (“Less than impressed” does not mean “we don’t like them.”  One can be impressed with something that does not suit one’s tastes.)

Ignoring Your Love Insults My Intelligence

Natasha of Natasha’s Memory Garden has nominated me for the WordPress Family Award.  That means it’s another exciting day of shameless self-promotion here at Bumblepuppies!

To celebrate, I’ve designed my own award logo:

Slide1

Somehow, the traditional touchy-feely version didn’t quite do it for me.

And now it’s time for seven more things you don’t know about me.

1- I enjoyed teaching (which is how I could afford to get through grad school) but the one type of job I don’t apply for is teaching positions in my major.  I’m demonstrably competent and qualified to teach related subjects but I’ve had no luck on that front.

2- Even though I occasionally make jokes that imply otherwise, I have no fear of math.

3- I do not have a library card, probably because I don’t read the kind of stuff public libraries tend to offer.

4- Off the top of my head, I cannot name five movies that have been released over the past five years.  So… I’m not exactly a film buff.

5- Off the top of my head, I can name dozens of varieties of central- and eastern European pork products.

6- I also think turkey is tasty.  This is why I’ve never needed a cardiologist.  (Not that I could afford one anyway…)

7- I would love to try chocolate covered grasshoppers.  If you know of a shop in the U.S. that ships them, send me a link.  Seriously.

The 15 blogs I’m nominating will appear after a few more paragraphs.  Blogs that were nominated last time were not considered for this because everyone should have the opportunity to advertise my blog.

If you need help advertising me and weren’t nominated for this award, you can always tweet about me or like me on Facebook.  Facebook and Twitter may insult my intelligence but your expressions of love and admiration do not.  (On the other hand, the only things I send out on the blog’s token accounts are the automated notifications of new posts.  I don’t think I’ve logged into either since creating those accounts and connecting them to this blog.)

(A note to the nominees: you may use my award logo if you wish, even if you’re not dysfunctional.  Since it displays the “Bumblepuppies” name prominently, I would be more than happy to see it go viral.)

Balladeer’s Blog

http://glitternight.com/2013/08/06/liberals-conservatives-intelligence/

Dad’s Political Cartoon Scrapbook 1939 to 1940

http://dadspoliticalcartoonscrapbook.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/keeping-him-happy/

dental eggs

http://dentaleggs.com/2013/07/18/root-canals-for-ultimate-profits/

fisticuffsandshenanigans

http://fisticuffsandshenanigans.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/because-woodland-creatures-have-inhabited-my-car/

Games, Eh?

http://gameoncanada.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/lara-croft-product-of-sexism/

Homeward Bound

http://carlosddvieira.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/we-mustnt-cry-more-than-the-bereaved/

Is Everyone an Idiot but Me?

http://iseveryoneanidiotbutme.com/2013/08/04/idiot-of-the-week-an-open-letter-to-the-old-navy-director-of-email-marketing/

Kitchen Slattern

http://kitchenslattern.com/2011/09/30/saturday-night-is-bean-night/

muscleheaded

http://muscleheaded.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/anais-nin-says-3/

NOWHERE TO RUN

http://drlisamallen.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/what-would-mima-do/

ONLY IN NIGERIA

http://onlyinnigeria.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/lagos-roads-where-is-dis/

overlandscape

http://overlandscape.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/geiranger-trollstigen-and-briksdal-glacier/

See! Travel Mag

http://seetravelmag.com/2013/08/06/raging-bitch-and-heady-topper/

Seven Years Late

http://sevenyearslate.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/proposal-congressional-shock-collar/

Tabula Candida

http://tabulacandida.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/humanities/

The Shine On Award Insults My Intelligence

Oh boy!  I won, I won, I won!

Ahem.

It seems that Will over at Games, eh? has nominated me for a chain letter an award.   The Shine On Award, to be specific.

This is perfect for me because, as you can tell, I’m the warm and fuzzy type.  Maybe I’ll let my candelabra do the shining so I can have some fun with this thing.

Dog food

Is this my reward? (Photo credit: Marianne Birkholz)

So, without further ado, here are the seven things you don’t know about me that I’m required to share as part of this award:

1- I’ve got two legs from my hips to the ground and when I move them they walk around.  (Hey!  You shouldn’t assume…)

2- I like to wash my hands after I use the toilet.  (Again, don’t assume.)

3- I think mice are rather nice.  Especially when they’re scaring people.  The same goes for cockroaches and toddlers.

4- I have a Ph.D.  It is not from the University of Phoenix but thank you for asking.  Unlike most people with my level of education, becoming a professor doesn’t appeal to me.  I have to explain this in every single job interview, which would get old after a while if I weren’t always thankful that a potential employer didn’t immediately scrap my application because they think I’d rather be back in the ivory tower.  Job hunting insults my intelligence.

5- I have registered a second blog domain but I haven’t decided what to do with it yet.

6- I am technically a published author but I don’t think you’d want to read that work.  Completely different genre and also quite expensive…

7- I am bilingual.

And for the 15 blogs I’m nominating for the award, I’m providing two links.  The first is for the blog; the second is for a recent post (so they’ll get a pingback and know to write a similar acceptance speech in which they provide free advertising for my blog.  Free advertising is nothing to sneeze at.)

When picking the 15, I went with newer blogs and people who have never been Freshly Pressed (as far as I know).  Here they are:

Architectural Disaster LOL

http://archidisasterlol.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/why-women-live-longer-6/

Big Dog Diving

http://bigdogdiving.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/henrietta/

Chronicles of a Public Transit User

http://publictransituser.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/sunset-weekly-photo-challenge-the-golden-hour/

if all else fails…use a hammer

http://kokkieh.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/on-vacation-not-really/

land of quo

http://landofquo.com/2013/07/12/i-dont-blame-them/

The Laughing Housewife

http://thelaughinghousewife.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/joke-841/

List of X

http://listofx.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/10-countries-that-refused-to-grant-political-asylum-to-edward-snowden/

Mean Green Math

http://meangreenmath.com/2013/07/12/a-great-algebra-question-or-is-it/

Memories of a Time

http://memoriesofatime.com/2013/07/09/shredding-the-past-of-me/

Mumblings From Beyond

http://artbymike08.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/next-time-you-save-the-universe-make-sure-you-know-how-to-google-reverse-sku-search-diagnose-hardware-and-software-issues-and-make-a-step-by-step-electronics-fix-it-book-for-your-wife/

Pouring My Art Out

http://pouringmyartout.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/yes-my-daughters-new-website-is-classy/

Rain Upon the Synaptic Desert

http://rainuponthesynapticdesert.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/top-40-radio-the-antonym-of-music/

Sticky Tudaman

http://stickytudaman.com/2013/07/13/sticky-tudaman-texas-pro-abortion-protest-strategies/

Vancouverandy

http://vancouverandy.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/masturbation-in-a-t-v-commercial-read-on-to-learn-more/

Why I didn’t blog today

http://whyididntblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/printed/

Email Greetings Insult My Intelligence

Slide1

I’m unemployed and, as you can probably imagine, I spend a fair amount of time on my job search.  Looking for a job isn’t always as thrilling as people usually make it out to be.  In today’s digital age, the pitfalls are greater than ever before.

Back before the dawn of online communications, people would check the newspaper want ads or go to agencies in person or do whatever else was popular back then.  I wouldn’t know.  But these days, one must often apply by email and this can be tricky.  For example, a job advertisement might look something like this:

We are looking for a new employee with the standard set of qualifications.  To apply, please send a resume and cover letter to Terry J. Squawchawk at tjsquawchawk@hippocraticfunicular.samba.com

Since I’m addressing a specific person, I now have to devise an appropriate greeting for my email.  In the old days, I imagine that people could just say “Dear Sir or Madam” on those occasions when they were required to submit a letter.   Because advertisers paid newspapers by the word or letter, a contact person’s name was presumably not published unless it was absolutely necessary.  Consequently, applicants could also choose to address their letters to the HR department.

Life was simpler back then.

These days I have to know whether Terry J. Squawchawk is a man or woman because “Dear Sir or Madam” would be offensive.  And since one can’t always learn someone’s gender online, one must sometimes devise creative solutions.  Here are a few alternative salutations I’ve considered:

Dear Bodacious One,

O Captain My Captain,

Hey you!

To the boss of my dreams,

Yo bitch!

Hail Terry, full of grace,

To whom it may concern,

Hey hey Terry J!

Moo!

Your Majesty,

Hail to the Chief!

Oompa loompa doompety doo – I’ve got an application for you,

If you have any better ideas, please let me know.  Appropriate email greetings are critical and I don’t want to mess things up.

Facebook Insults My Intelligence

I don’t have a Facebook account and I don’t want one.  However, it amuses me to hear debates about how Facebook is destroying our privacy.

Let me explain: if you post things online and expect privacy, you probably don’t understand the internet very well.  If you put information out there, people will find it.  If you make your Facebook page (or blog or whatever) private, someone can still copy and paste anything you upload and post it elsewhere.

'No photos' tag at Wikimania

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Offline privacy has disappeared too.  A friend or family member can pop out a digital camera at any time and unwittingly shoot something that will get you fired or investigated or humiliated or divorced or disowned or sued or arrested or…

And then we’re all videotaped in gas stations and in parking lots and in department stores and even in department store dressing rooms.  Didn’t you ever notice the signs?

In addition, your employer or potential employer can require an investigative credit report.  This resembles a government background check, complete with interviews of friends, neighbors, landlords, coworkers, and other people you’ve known.  Even if you and your friends remain prudent enough to keep certain information “private,” your boss can monitor you even when there’s no technology around.

Therefore, asking for your Facebook password only expedites a process that your employer could pursue in other ways.

And as we all know, these investigations always reach accurate conclusions.  For example, the U.S. government found Edward Snowden trustworthy enough to be given its secrets after researching his past.  Now imagine how negative results could wrongly damage a person being investigated.  I’m sure it happens regularly.  Facebook, Google searches, and most of the rest seem like they would provide insufficient context for the isolated data they uncover…

Unless the combined surveillance records everything you say and do.

So how else do people violate our desires for privacy?

American Express Advertising Cards

(Photo credit: The.Comedian)

Let’s start with the sale of your personal information.  Do you ever wonder why you receive special credit card offers tailored to your specific interests, or catalogs from shops you’ve never heard of?  Using your credit or debit card creates a sellable record for both the merchant and the card company.  American Express constantly sends me credit card ads that advertise plane tickets as rewards.  I don’t have an AMEX account, so they had to learn of my love for travel from somewhere else.  I doubt it’s from following this month-old blog.

And then we have the less obvious sources of information insecurity.  Did you go to college?  Many universities sell alumni data to companies that are itching to know who might have the financial resources to afford the newest products.  If you use a cell phone or GPS, your location can be pinpointed at any time.  Web search engines can keep track of what you look for and so can your internet service provider.

The NSA also watches you.

And speaking of drones…

But I am not writing this post to defend Facebook.  The whole debate over privacy strikes me as a giant distraction.  Of all the ways you’re being monitored, Facebook represents the rare instance where it’s all your fault.   You volunteer all of the information you put there and you’ve had ample opportunity to discover the consequences in advance.  Moreover, you’re not depriving yourself of anything critical by not participating.

So why does Facebook insult my intelligence?  Aside from the bells and whistles people love, it constitutes little more than a tool for businesses to conduct market research.

Money

(Photo credit: Adrian Serghie)

Have you liked a product  on Facebook lately?  Maybe you voted for your favorite reality show contestant or participated in a company’s online contest.  Because you did that, the sponsoring companies now have all of your data without having to send out a bunch of questionnaires.  They can track who uses their product, who isn’t satisfied, who their marketing influences, and where else they should be advertising.

Facebook doesn’t have to sell your information to businesses.  You’re giving it away for free.

And when you like a product on Facebook, the business receives the best free advertising possible: praise by word of mouth.  Businesses are getting more of this than ever before.  If you have 300 “friends” and receive updates on all of their likes, you’re exposed to more advertising than TV could ever deliver.

But that’s not all!  The folks at Forbes noticed that explicit advertising on Facebook vastly exceeds what you’ll find on other popular sites.  Of course, Facebook gears this advertising to the demographic information and personal interests you shared with them.  It all comes full circle.

Big Brother isn’t watching you.  You’re watching him and you’re so entranced that he picks your pocket without you noticing.  He’s the movie of the century that all the cool kids have to see.

Needless to say, my friends and relatives have tried to convince me to join Facebook.  The reason they offer always resembles 5th grade logic: “everybody else is doing it!”  And if all of your friends jumped off a cliff, you might be depressed enough to jump too.  Fortunately, you can remain sane and happy by remembering the ever-present alternatives to jumping.  That’s true online and in life.

Last I checked, I was not a lemming.

Everybody belongs to everyone else now, and “everyone else” is businesses.  Fortunately, businesses are people too.

Oh, brave new world!  1984 was almost thirty years ago.

Goodreads Recommendation Requests Sometimes Insult My Intelligence

Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love Goodreads.  The website is such a simple and brilliant idea.  You bring people together, let them create a list of books they’ve loved and hated, and give them a page where they can request book recommendations from their fellow website users.  (There are other things on the site, but that’s not of concern to me at the moment.)
You might be wondering what problem I could possibly find with that.  So far, I have found none.  However, the requests people make sometimes reveal a lot more about the person than is intended.  If I might paraphrase a recommendation request I’ve seen:

Can anyone recommend a romance novel in which the male protagonist has to overcome many obstacles before finally getting the girl and living happily ever after with her?  The book should also be suspenseful.

Hmmmmm.  I understand that sometimes you’re in the mood to read a particular type of book.  In spite of that, the requesting person is (vaguely) outlining a desired plot and determining in advance what the ending should be.  I know that some people can’t live without their Disney-esque happy endings, but how can a book be suspenseful if you’ve already chosen that book based on how it turns out?

If the person were looking for Shakespeare or something substantially artistic or otherwise well-crafted, it might be fascinating to see how the chosen plot is carried through; I could understand such a request.   I’d still question how much suspense would result, but I’d understand it.

And then there’s this:

I want to read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

For requests like this, it’s pretty easy to suggest something.  Of course, I’m thinking of the “Hooked on Phonics” workbook.  Maybe these people couldn’t understand the instructions because their reading skills need help.  Or maybe they’re announcing that they’ve graduated to grown up books.

And another:

I can’t remember the name of the book but I read it in high school.  The main character was a young blond woman and she fell in love with her knight in shining armor, and then they moved far away where they opened a bakery.  Does anyone know the name of this book?

This resembles the first offending request type, but it tends to garner fewer responses.  If the request were targeting a well known book, one would hope that the requester could find the information on their own; instead, these descriptions resemble a million others.  Since these are presumably not well known books, there’s probably a good reason why the requester can’t remember information such as such as the title, author, or uniquely identifying details that hundreds of other books don’t share.  Odds are, the book was crap.  Or maybe the requester was stoned the first time around.

One final request type:

I’d like to read a book from Japan.

Oh, where to begin?  Would this person like a romance novel, war memoir, classic No drama, haiku collection, or maybe something else?  A book’s origin alone will not determine whether you like it.  Not much in Japan is so overwhelmingly Japanese that its Japanese-ness (Japanicity?) overwhelms every other aspect of the book.  Is bibliostereotyping a word?  On the other hand, I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on someone who realizes that Japan creates more things than cars, electronics, and anime.  This person already belongs to the smartest 5% of the population.

Nevertheless, it’s always encouraging to see people choosing to read instead of watch TV, no matter what book they choose.  I shudder to think what the average TV addict’s Goodreads requests would look like:

Can anyone recommend a good DVD insert?

That request will surely be brought to you by the same people who want to know what issue of Playboy has the best articles.

Earthlink Insults My Intelligence

We had a small storm here recently.  It knocked out power for less than 24 hours, but it was no catastrophe.  Twelve hours after the lights came back on, I called Earthlink to ask when internet service would be back.  They said there was a large outage area and it would be back the next morning.  That deadline came and went and now it’s afternoon.  I called again and was told not to contact them again for another twenty four hours.

Their website has claimed that there have been no outage areas this entire time.  I guess we aren’t supposed to have cell phones to look things up with.  (You’d think an internet company would be familiar with technology.)  Or maybe they don’t want to publicly admit the outage.

I will post again when I can use a real keyboard.  My hand hurts, but probably not as much as their brains hurt, what with all the work they’re having to do.

UPDATE: 3 1/2 hours later, my internet connection is back.  Moral of the story: blogging the problem gets faster results than calling support.