If you haven’t noticed, Google has been revamping their look. Unifying the feel of all their sites. So far, I like it, with my only real complaint being the over abundance of white space. Luckily, most of the apps offer the ability to select a “compact” look that eliminates much of that, squeezing everything in closer together. These days, I prefer whenever possible to hang out over on Google+ instead of Facebook, largely because of its much cleaner look and lack of crap I don’t like.
But all isn’t roses in the land of search and honey. Google’s latest moves have started to bother me. The first being the new YouTube. The pages for any individual video is much improved. It’s cleaner, nicer, and with the new size buttons of regular, large and full screen, it simplifies in all the best possible ways. Which makes the atrocity of their main page such a disheartening failure. I used to be able to quickly review my subscriptions while scrolling, but now, with one or two prolific video posters (I’m looking at you machinima!) my front page is pretty just one or two people, with the odd other video thrown in. Maybe it’ll grow on me, but I don’t see how.
Rolling out to select people now but eventually to everyone is the new Google Bar. Not one of those you install on your browser, but that black bar that has existed at the top of the majority of Google pages for a while now. A short while ago, probably prepping for the new bar, they juggled the apps around. Now that you can see the new design, the reorder of the apps remains. I’m certain that somewhere is a guy at Google who has lots of metrics that informed on which apps made the cut of being on the first level and which ones got hidden behind the “more” entry, at least I hope there is so that I have someone to properly hate.
It's sort of like an upside-down Start Button in Windows.
You see, one of the apps I use all the time is Google Reader (RSS feeds are awesome!) and when they performed their juggling act, Reader dropped off the main app selection. And with this latest revision, Calendar didn’t make the cut. It’s just insanity that Google hasn’t yet, even back in the black bar days, implemented a way to let each user decide the order of apps.
The new prime apps are Google+, Search, Images, Maps, YouTube, News, Gmail and Documents. To begin with I use Google+ a bunch, probably keep it open most of the day. Next I literally cannot recall the last time I when to the Search main page with the intent to search. I go there to see the new logos. (To be fair, I use Bing now for searching just because I earn points that I can spend on Xbox Live spacebucks, so when I used the Chrome address bar to search it goes to Bing, but before that it used Google, and I still can by typing “g” and a space then my search query.) Same with Images, since it’s basically search – I usually just do a regular web search (from the address bar) and then click the image link on the left of the results. Or, you know, I type “i” followed by a space in the address bar, which is my short cut to image searches at Google. I use maps, but not very often. I do use YouTube quite a bit. News works like Search and Images, “n” followed by a space in the address bar. Gmail and Documents are both deserving. So of the 8, I’ve identified 4 that could easily move beneath the “more” and I’d barely notice.
Meanwhile, I use Music every couple of days, Calendar daily, and Reader I use easily 4 or 5 times a day. And yet, with the new design, I have to click the Google icon on the new bar, then hover over the “More” entry and then select my app. Or I ignore the menu altogether just use the address bar to pull up the site. Maybe I’m just not the target audience. I don’t know.
Anyway, enough rambling out of me, though I do hope they allow for some customization soon.
There are two things that frustrate me the most about Facebook.
The first is how games work there. I love the way Lexulous worked. I was playing games with my friends, and I was playing games with strangers without having to friend them first. And because it wasn’t constant asking me to invite people or ask them for help, I actually posted wins and achievement notices to my feed. Of course, Words with Friends owns my soul now, so I don’t play much Lexulous anymore. (Hint: people like to play on their phones and you phone app sucked. Maybe it has gotten better, I don’t know, because I’m not there anymore.) I want to play other games, and being a huge fan of MMOs I don’t mind playing with other people. But the current design of most (Zynga) games is that I need dozens and dozens of friends playing in order to progress at a reasonable level. Well, I don’t have that many real friends who want to play, so I need to friend strangers unless I want to suffer slow play. Friending strangers breaks Facebook. The result is, occasionally a game interests me enough that I’ll create a group/list that I’ve painstakingly denied all access to, and friend random people and put them in that list. This lasts until either a) I need even more friends, or b) I get a creepy feeling from having all these non-friend friends and thinking I missed some setting and they have full access to all my stuff. Then I spend a day purging those people and those games from my account.
The other thing bothers me is the terribly shitty layout of Facebook. Here, I drew a picture:
That covers pretty much all that I find annoying or crappy about the default screen I get to see when I log in to Facebook. Essentially, the content I want is surrounded by stuff that is wrong or pointless. And they go a step further by making that center column all wrong. I want a time line, in order, of stuff my friends have done. That group on the left side called “Everyone” is how I do that. Even though the default News Feed lets me choose to show news with “recent stories first”, that feed and my “Everyone” feed are different, and not just because my own updates don’t appear in “Everyone” but because there is still stuff missing from the default feed.
Speaking of the default feed is constantly telling me things like that there are “5 new feed items” and then I click the link and only 2 items show up, or that one time it said I had 10 new items and none showed up when I clicked the link. I realize that’s probably because of all the apps I’ve blocked, but if I’ve blocked them then why are you telling me about updates I can’t see? And that goes hand in hand with my complaint about the numbers on the left. It tells me where are 20+ updates in a group, and I click on it to see that there are only 5 updates because there were probably 15+ messages from apps I’ve blocked.
There is so much wrong and useless stuff on Facebook (and I’m not even talking about the updates from my friends!!) that it makes me want to never go there. And still… it’s where everyone is. *sigh*
Earlier this year I began doing the Insanity work out. And then I quit doing the Insanity work out. Last year, around November-ish, I started feeling not-well. I hedge a bit at using the word “sick” because for the longest time I was never full-blown sick. It was mild (and I mean really mild) congestion with the feeling that something was stuck in the back of my throat. Coughing and the constant swallowing in an attempt to dislodge whatever was stuck there resulted in frequent sore throats, and as time went on it got worse, but never really horrible.
I stopped doing Insanity because it seemed to get really bad while working out. I’d end up way more out of breath than I should be and coughing, and I’d get more congested. When I stopped doing the work outs, it got better.
On Halloween this year, we had a guy come out to inspect the heating and air units in the house. As usual, he changed the filters. The filters were really really filthy, especially in the second unit, the one that handles the basement/media room. When he popped that bad boy out and started changing it, he started coughing and so did I. That night I had a terrible sore throat and a head ache to go with the coughs, and by the next day I was is horrible shape. I stayed home from work the rest of the week recovering. While I got better, I never got well. I didn’t even return to the pre-Halloween me.
I went to the doctor and got some medicine to treat bronchitis, which I may or may not have had – but since I haven’t been given antibiotics for anything in nearly a decade I don’t think my taking some now is going to hurt anything. However, even with the meds, the coughing didn’t go away. So it was time to try something else.
On Sunday morning last week, I woke up and made a concerted effort to stay upstairs. Within a couple of days I was coughing less. It didn’t go away entirely, but it lent credence to the theory that the problem was allergy related, and that I was allergic to something downstairs. So, we called up a company that cleans out air ducts to come and clean ours.
They came on Wednesday and cleared a handful of trash bags worth of stuff from the vents. Dust and mold (probably the culprit), and nails and bottles and cans… it seems that when they built the house many years ago, the construction guys would drink a soda and then just put the waste in a nearby air duct rather than throwing them away. You’d think that perhaps a duct cleaning would occur when the house was finished being built, but apparently not.
With all that out of the way, I found myself breathing a little easier. And yet, I still have the feeling that there is something stuck in the back of my throat. I decide to give in to my 21st Century Internet tendencies and go to WebMD. For over a year I’ve been telling doctors that I have this feeling, and they’ve continually told me to take allergy medication. Over on WebMD though, I find that this is also sometimes a symptom of acid reflux. You see, acid gets out of your stomach the wrong way and into your esophagus, and your esophagus tightens to prevent it from going further or something like that, hence the feeling that something is stuck in your throat and why coughing doesn’t help (coughing is air coming from the lungs, and while air and food go in the same hole, there are two different tubes they travel down, so no amount of air from the lungs will help a problem coming from your stomach). I get myself some antacids which WebMD recommends to combat acid reflux, and lo and behold I’m feeling better. I wish I could get back the money I spent on doctors and prescriptions. Oh well.
And I’m feeling better just in time too! I’ll start exercising again this Friday… after Thanksgiving.
Around six months ago, I wrote about the CDC embracing the zombie apocalypse as a teaching tool for disaster preparedness. Some people laugh at stuff like this, but as I said then, as I’ve said for a long time, and as I continue to say, if you are prepared for zombies then you are prepared for just about anything.
Since then I’ve had their little badge up on my site and I hope people take it to heart. Seriously, just the simple act of having a flashlight with batteries (or one that doesn’t need batteries), a radio, some food, some water and a plan just puts you in a great position to handle even minor things, not to mention when a storm rips through and the power is out for a few days.
Randomly, earlier this week, I clicked that link myself, just to make sure it still worked, and was rewarded with finding out that they’ve made some changes.
Now, in addition to their one sheet about zombies and links to other disaster preparation information, they’ve put up a short graphic novel, Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic. It is available as a PDF from their site. I love that the CDC is doing this, and I hope they keep doing it.
Perhaps they need a page that uses werewolves to illustrate how to handle animal bites…
The title should say it all. And yet, so often I’ve expressed that sentiment to people and they push back with all the reasons why voting doesn’t matter. But it does. In a democracy (or a democratic republic or whatever variation you want to pedantically state we live in) your vote is one of the things you have that matters most.
The elected corrupt have little interest in educating the electorate
While voting is good, voting blind is not. You do yourself and everyone you know a disservice if you don’t do your research. Keeping up with all the positions and politics used to be hard and time-consuming, but we live in the future, and these days in as little as five or ten minutes a day you can learn so much about every issue that faces this nation, and from so many sources that you no longer have to implicitly trust that the reporter is giving you an unbiased opinion. Let the opinions be full of bias, and let the Internet deliver to you so many opinions that you can find the truth for yourself.
Just be careful not to tie yourself down to too few sources, even when.. no, especially when you find yourself agreeing with everything a particular source says. Don’t be lazy because it is so easy to not be lazy. Use Google and Bing, or even Yahoo or Ask or any random search engine, and you’ll get all the information you need. And with the advent of Web 2.0 design, you can participate. If you read something you don’t quite understand, you can ask for clarification and the Internet will clarify it. Millions of people are out there, waiting for someone to ask “Can you explain what is meant by…”, and some of them will even be right!
Don’t wait for the politicians to tell you what the issues are. Go find the issues for yourself. Educate yourself. Because the truth is, the people you’d rather not have in office would rather have voters who are easily distracted by meaningless issues that reek of tabloid level scum than to have voters who actually know what’s going on.
There is no use voting for anyone but the Republican or the Democrat
In many cases, when you get to the polls, you’ll find yourself with just two options. Republican or Democrat. (Though, write-in candidates should be supported everywhere, you might just have to search hard for the option or ask for help in locating it – some of these ballots are really poorly designed, even the electronic ones.) But often there will be other choices. These 3rd party candidates are often there to shine a spotlight on a single issue or small set of issues, but you don’t have to ignore them. Include them in your research and if you think those people are the best for the job vote for them.
Some people will call that a “wasted vote”, but it isn’t. Not in principle. Yes, Mr. Third-party may not have a shot in hell of taking the office, but if he can get enough votes then either a) his pet issues will get more air time, or b) the swell of support this time will increase his chances next time. And remember, not everyone votes at the same time, and exit polls start showing predictions early. Your vote of confidence in that other option might inspire others to also throw their weight behind the little guy.
Mostly though, a vote for the best person is never a wasted vote. Voting for someone you don’t want in office because she’s a little less bad than another candidate, that is a wasted vote because you are supporting someone you don’t agree with. And when they get into office, they don’t get results like “62% of the voters voted for you! However, 23% only did so because they didn’t want the other guy to win but they don’t really like you.” They just get the first sentence, the one that tells them they have a mandate from the people. You’ve just given a mandate to a politician you didn’t like enough to vote for on merit alone.
Vote for the candidate you want to win!
Tomorrow is election day in the United States. If you haven’t yet, spend a little time today to find out what is going to be on the ballot and learn enough to have an opinion. Tomorrow, vote.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I maintain one, but I like blogs. The main reason I like them is that most blogs update daily, as in once a day. Maybe every once in a while a blogger gets prolific and updates twice a day, but there will also be days they don’t update at all. I can even manage to stomach sites that get enough popularity that they have multiple writers and updates start becoming more frequent, mainly because each writer often has their own voice.
What I hate is when sites become popular enough to be profitable and suddenly the RSS feed gets clogged with blurb posts that are little more than saying “Hey, there is a piece of news from somewhere else and here is a link.” I don’t subscribe to a lot of sites other people live and die by because of this. So many of them just don’t put forth the effort. A new thing gets announced and 90% or more of the sites post a “Look! New thing!” entry that just links to some other site (often a similar post that links to somewhere else – I mean, seriously guys, if you learn about the new thing from another site and not the source, please link to the source and thank the site, don’t link to the site, that’s a waste of everyone’s time). No commentary, no story, just a link and a place for people to comment.
If you are going to repost news, have the courtesy to think up an opinion on it, or the decency to do a daily or weekly wrap up of links so that it comes in one post and not twenty-seven. By posting every little bit of news or announcement or cool thing on its own with no meat of your own, you are saying that you don’t value my time, just your post count and my traffic. Which is why you lose my traffic.
My blog isn’t very popular. I’ve got maybe seventy or so people who read frequently enough to be tracked, and mostly it’s because, I admit, my content isn’t all that exciting. A few people like it enough to keep coming back, but that’s it. If I wanted to get more readers, I would post more content and work on making the content I do post better. I wouldn’t increase frequency with shit posts linking to other places with hot topics that will drive up my page rank in hopes that more people visit. But the latter seems to be what many sites do. They increase quantity without increasing or even maintaining quality, popularity over substance, and a number of other “this instead of that” scenarios.
I suppose it comes down to preferring opinions over news, especially since so many news sites are really announcement sites, posting headlines without substance. Anyway, back to the blogs…
So, I was gifted a Kindle for my birthday. In accordance with the preference I had expressed, it was the cheapest new Kindle, the one with no touch screen, no 3G, and displays ads when it is idle or in standby mode. I am very excited. And yet, I’m also a little annoyed. Not at the Kindle itself, but the situation I find myself in.
You see, I have a bookshelf, and it is full of books. Understandable, since I do read books. In fact we have a bunch of those. But this particular shelf is full of books I have yet to read. Easily 30 of them, possibly as many as 40 or even 50. Books I’ve been given as gifts for birthdays and Christmas, books I picked up on sale, books I bought at the closings of a couple of Borders locations. I have all these books to read and none of them are on my Kindle.
To make matters worse, I happen to be in the middle of reading George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, a giant brick of a book that is uncomfortable to read in nearly any position. I’d love to have it on my shiny new Kindle, but the publisher blocks lending, so I can’t even get someone with an eBook copy of it to let me borrow it. (First world problems!)
I suppose, if I were inclined, I could dip into some of the shadier parts of the Internet and find eBook copies of them, placating myself with the justification that I’ve already bought the books. I’d prefer to find some place willing to take my books in trade, maybe for a small fee, and give me eBook copies in return. I don’t know if that exists. If it does, I haven’t been able to find it.
I imagine most people have this problem when they first get a Kindle or other eReader, this lag between reading books and reading on the device. At least it is a problem that should solve itself in time. Until then, I’ve been loading up my reader with the best free books around (perfect for Halloween are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and even Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), and I’m heading over to the library to get a card since Kindle supports library lending now.
There will probably be times when I miss books, and no doubt on occasion I will still buy them, especially when authors and signatures are involved, but I am glad to be finally diving into the future.
If you have ever spent any significant amount of time interviewing for jobs, you’ve probably had someone ask you, “What do you think is your greatest weakness?” Most people don’t spend any effort on seriously considering that question, and often it’s just a wankfest of trying to come up with something that also sounds like a strength. “I work too hard.” “I do too much unpaid overtime.” “I sacrifice my social life for work.” Personally, I’ve never liked that, and whenever I’ve been a part of the interview process from the other side and heard a prospect give one of those answers, I’ll either write them off as being useless or if they’ve shown real promise before that get them to answer again, with a little truth this time. If I’ve bothered to ask you that question, it’s because I want to know that you are capable of not seeing yourself as perfect and understanding that you can improve. I certainly don’t want to hear how even your flaws are assets, because if it is an asset, a strength, it’s not a weakness.
For me, my answer has often been that I’m better at fixing or finishing than I am at starting. When asked to explain, I do so by telling them about issues I have with narrowing decisions. For example, I am told to build a webpage. In what language? The choice of language will dictate, down the road, what you can do. Some languages are great at some things and weak at others, and so at the beginning stages of a project I will often spent an incredibly large amount of time trying to think of and map out every possible feature we could want in the site in an attempt to make sure I’m choosing the best language, the best approach. If instead of being told “build a webpage” I was told “build a webpage in PHP” we can eliminate a lot of time and effort. I end by saying that while it is my greatest weakness, it can be greatly tempered with information and direction, and lessens over time as I become more comfortable with my working environment.
I’ve gotten better at that over the years, both through knowledge and speed of research, and by gaining confidence in my decision-making by having decisions I’ve made work out well. And so now my answer has changed.
My greatest weakness these days is that I expect other people to do their jobs. My job is software development with a little support thrown in (small company, everyone does lots of jobs). When I’m asked to write software or if I’m handed a support call, I do it. And when doing my job requires me asking someone to do their job, I ask them and expect it to be done. Too many times, it isn’t done quickly, which holds up my ability to do work. The delays lengthen and eventually I’m missing deadlines.
In my opinion, I shouldn’t have to yell at people to do the job they are being paid to do. They should just do it, as I do in my own job. Instead, I often find that part of my job becomes checking up on other people at other companies to make sure stuff gets done.
I call in and report a problem. I’m not asking for new service, I’m reporting that my existing service is broken. When people call me for things like that, I drop what I’m doing and work on the problem, because a customer who cannot use my service now is infinitely more important than that feature I’m working on that no one is using yet. So, I’ve reported the problem and am told someone will be calling me shortly. Two hours later, I haven’t heard from anyone. I call in to get a status update and find that no one has been assigned the call yet. I am assured the call will be assigned and someone will call me within a couple of minutes. Thirty minutes later I’m calling back in again because no one has called me. They transfer me to the guy who was assigned the call, he tells me he needs to read the problem. He does, we talk, he says it needs to go to another department, and they’ll call me back. This keeps repeating, over and over.
In the end, it takes three days to fix a problem that should have taken a couple of hours at most. Probably because they are dealing with the same stuff I am when they have to call someone about part of my issue. And I know, because I used to have their job.
My weakness boils down to this: I don’t like to yell at people because I shouldn’t have to yell at people.
I know this blog isn’t read by many people, but perhaps just putting thoughts out into the universe can make them heard. Do your job, as well and as fast as you can, because if people are waiting on you, just imagine how you feel when you are waiting on other people. Unfortunately this is one of those “Pay It Forward” types of things where you may never benefit directly, only if it loops around and the people you have to wait on decide not to make you wait. But it’s worth doing, at the very least you can be completely justified in your ire at having to wait on other people since you don’t make people wait.