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Tell tale signs a person doesn’t get a computer

April 20, 2011

Having spent the majority of my professional life working with people who are, for lack of a better term, idiots when it comes to computer stuff, I’ve picked up on a few tell-tale traits that, while a person may know how to check their email and shop on Amazon, indicate the person really doesn’t ‘get’ computers.  Here are a few examples:

1.    They insist on putting the word ‘the’ in front of internet related nouns.  The most prevalent are, ‘The Google,’ ‘The Powerpoint,’ and ‘The photoshop.’ 

2.    They use internet related nouns as verbs, but without a sense of irony.  “It’s been photoshopped” being a good example. 

3.    They double click on hyperlinks.

4.    They misuse software applications.  A personal favorite is building a powerpoint slide and embedding an excel sheet inside it, rather than simply using excel, like the good lord intended.  Another good one is wanting to buy photoshop so you can remove red-eye and crop pictures.  If you don’t understand why this is stupid, then you are not a computer person.

All of these are good tell-tale signs, but they are largely small things and the people that do them have very little negative impact on their workforce as a result.  Of much greater concern are people who do have a great deal of influence in the development of the cyber world and who also exhibit tell-tale signs of not really ‘getting it.’  For these people, the biggest give away can be found in the articles they write for defense oriented publications.  Here are three good examples from the latest issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly, the premier Air Force published journal on all things air, space, and cyber technology related. 

From the introduction:

“I have compared our entry into cyberspace to mankind’s last great era of discovery European colonization of the Western Hemisphere. During that period, large private corporations like the Hudson Bay Company and the East India Tea Company acted with many of the attributes of sovereignty. What of that experience is instructive today for contemplating the appropriate roles of giants like Google and Facebook? We probably do not want to outfit twenty-first-century cyber privateers with letters of marque and reprisal, but what should be the relationship between large corporations and the government when private networks on which the government depends are under sustained attack?”

“Tough questions all-tougher (perhaps) but not unlike those our air¬power ancestors faced nearly a century ago. As pioneer air warriors grappled with the unfamiliar, so must we.”

From the lead article:

“The topology of the Internet, like the prairie of the 1800s’ Ameri¬can Midwest is about to be changed forever-rationally, conflictually, or collaterally-by the decisions of states.”

See the tell?  It’s the painful attempt at putting the issues associated with cyber into a context that, apparently, Roy Rogers can understand.  The cyber world cannot be viewed as if it behaves in the same way as the real world, for the simple reason that the cyber world does not have any stable boundaries.  This mistaken belief that you can somehow control or partition the internet is fueled by imagery that compares cyberspace to vast tracts of land.  The problem is that, unlike cyber space, land is finite, it has clearly defined boundaries, and it does not change.  Mexico and the U.S. can argue about the border because THEY KNOW WHERE IT IS!  You can’t say the same about cyber related issues where there are no stable boundaries, no clear lines of jurisdiction, and no way of telling where a problem originated.

 I’d be less worried about all this, except the people who wrote those above lines are really big players in the cyber/defense world, and to see them using these sorts of folksy literary devices that mask the true nature of the cyber world does not give me the warm and fuzzy that our government is equipped to handle this new world.  If we are retain control of the cyber world, we must first recognize that the cyber world is unlike anything in our history and its associated issues cannot be viewed through the same lens as more traditional areas of conflict.  Otherwise, we risk repeating the mistakes of the 1920’s naval treaties where governments limited the gross tonnage and size of each others navies in an attempt to avoid a naval arms race, when in reality, unbeknownst to all but a few keen observers, the carrier based aircraft (which was not restricted by any treaty because no one thought it was a viable weapon) was about to become the deciding factor in naval warfare.see how easy it is to create misleading historical/cyber related metaphors?

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If LBJ was President…

April 13, 2011

The other day someone I worked with mentioned a story that said that if LBJ was President, none of this near-government-shutdown-crap would have happened.  The argument was that LBJ was such a hard-ass negotiator and so good at herding cats that he would have whipped everybody into shape and we’d all be happy.  As a student of American history, most recently Presidential history (I’m on Teddy Roosevelt right now) I firmly believe that any historical analogy that places a pre-cable news political figure into a modern political problem is utter nonsense.  The perpetual existence of 24/7 cable news (CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News) and associated internet news sites, organizations whose only purpose is to remain profitable, has had a massive negative impact on our politics and contributed immeasurably to our overall decline as a nation.  First, a couple things to keep in mind: 

1.    The purpose of a news organization is not to serve the public interest; it is to advance a specific political ideology and to make money in the process.  This was well understood prior to the advent of television, when ad dollars suddenly became important, at which point television networks began convincing people they were objective reporters of the news in order to attract a broader audience and command greater ad revenue. 

2.    News media serves as a check against the government, but only when it makes financial sense to do so.

3.    Rarely does more than one hour’s worth of newsworthy events occur in a 24 hour period, meaning the remaining 23 are unnecessary. 

4.    Internet News is like porn; no matter what your tastes, no matter how specific your views, there is a website that will happily cater to your every desire.

5.    News media is self-perpetuating:  It exists to justify its existence, which results in the inflation of events’ importance, endless repetition, and manufactured controversy that does not represent that true state of American affairs. 

6.    News Media has a vested financial interest in creating tension and disruption in the political process.  People working together to resolve problems in boring and not profitable.

The result of these tenants is a fractured American populace which, egged on if not outright directed by the media, is becoming more partisan, more willing to demonize the opposition, and more convinced that those actions are both a normal and healthy part of the American political process.  Intense hatred and vitriol are standard fare for American politics (and in fact, used to be much more intense compared to today’s relatively tame political slurs) but they were always relegated to the fringes, not dragged to the center and repeated to the point that people began to accept it as a mainstream view. 

American politics and the media have always been intrinsically linked and that will not change.  What has changed is the nature of the media – it’s never ending coverage of the trivial, it’s constant elevation of the irrelevant, it’s revealing insistence of it’s own neutrality, and it’s desperately cyclical need for content, have resulted in a populace that is less informed and less willing to work with the opposing side to resolve common problems.  If only there was some way to reach the people and convince them of the validity of my argument…some sort of internet-based means for communicating ideas…oh well….I guess we’re just screwed.

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Once again, old people are ruining my day

March 30, 2011

Let’s get one thing straight:  We are rich. I mean, really rich.  Our country is so rich as to make it almost unfathomable to even comprehend. We’re so rich we spend more on interest payments per day than some countries entire GDP.  So what’s with all the talk about how we’re broke?  The answer is not that we don’t have a shitload of money, it’s that our future expenses are projected to surpass our projected revenue. That’s called a deficit.  Note that a deficit is different than debt.

Debt is fine.  The U.S. has always operated at a debt – it’s what allows us to kick so much ass!  By borrowing money (at low rates I might add, which are made possible by the stability of our government and the strength of our military) and using it to make investments in things we would not otherwise be able to afford, we increase our overall quality of life and stature in the world.  This is a good thing – it’s the same logic families’ use when buying a house.  No one pays for a house outright – it’s simply too expensive and they don’t have that much money saved up.  Instead, they take out a mortgage and in return they get a nicer house then they would otherwise have been able to afford.  It’s not until those mortgage payments become so large that the family is unable to pay them that they become a problem, also known as a deficit.

 So, what exactly is driving the U.S.’s deficit problem?  I’ll tell you what’s not – housing assistance, food stamps, environmental regulations, or military spending.  All of that is considered discretionary spending and, in total, it makes up less than 20% of the overall federal budget.

What’s driving our deficit is the projected rise in social security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  To put it another way, the baby boomers are bankrupting us, because when they retire it will cause a massive spike in spending that will be accompanied by an equally massive drop in federal revenue since they will no longer be working and therefore will no longer be paying into the system in the form of taxes.  This is a big problem and the only way to address it is by reforming those three big programs.  Unfortunately, this won’t happen, because the AARP (you know, those syrupy adds featuring old people and their grandkids you see on the hallmark channel and fox news) is the single biggest union in the world, and their influence over politicians is so strong as to negate any possibility of their precious welfare nets ever being touched, even if the changes will in no way affect their benefits.  Don’t piss off granny, even if it means her grandchildren will be the ones who suffer.

Actually, that would make for a pretty funny AARP add – Grandpa and Grandson are sitting on the dock fishing and the grandpa says to the kid, ‘one day you’ll bring your own grandkids here’ and the kid will then look up and say, ‘Actually, thanks to the looming deficit your welfare benefits are creating and your unwillingness to engage in any talk of reform, I’ll probably have to sell this piece of property and use the cash to finance my own retirement.  Greatest generation my ass.’

Hey, the kid said it, not me.

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Winning the Global War on Toner (GWOT)

February 25, 2011

In case you haven’t gotten the word, the government’s broke.  Or at least that’s what they’re telling us, and thanks to our new found sense of fiscal responsibility, the Navy is looking for all sorts of ways to lower our overall operating costs.  Thankfully, in true military/government fashion, the bosses have stumbled on a perfect solution that both fails to lower costs in any meaningful way while at the same time greatly inhibiting our ability to do work.  They’re getting rid of color copies.  That’s right – the world’s most powerful (and expensive) Navy is now being told, by direction from the very top of the Navy food chain, that offices shall no longer print anything in color or single sided.  Everything shall be in black and white and double sided.  Unless the copies are for an Admiral.  Or the slides are dependent on color to make sense.  Or you’re a Captain who needs to review the Admiral’s slides before giving them to him.  Or you’re a Commander who needs to build the slides for the Captain so he can then review them and give them to the Admiral.  Or you’re the contractor who actually does the work for the Commander and, well, you get the idea.  The point is, it is now official policy to no longer print in color or single sided.  So let it be written, so let it be done.

Of course, with any new policy such as this one, the ultra anal retentive people who love nothing more than shoving in your face a copy of a regulation you’ve broken (which they’ve printed off, by the way) are now starting to come out of the woodwork.  You can see them hanging by the printers, like buzzards circling a man lost in the desert, just waiting, waiting for that poor sucker who would have the audacity to defy the most sacred of edicts.  It’s gotten so bad that once I was actually told, and this is no joke, to shred a color copy and print it again in black and white because, “We’re trying to save toner!”  I swear by all that is holy, those were the man’s exact words.

The sad thing is the Navy REALLY does want to go paperless.  Back in the ’90s there was this whole ‘paperless Navy’ movement and the belief was that buying a bunch of computers all work would be done electronically and no one would ever have to print anything again.  Remarkably, this failed, and the result is that instead of streamlining workflow and reducing paper usage, computers have actually increased the amount of time it takes to get anything done and uses more paper to do it.  Case in point – it used to be that if a person wanted to take leave they would fill out a leave chit in triplicate using carbon paper, run the chit through the chain of command, and once it was signed they would go on leave.  Simple.  Then computers came along, and with them a program that would fill out your leave chit electronically.  Except the program didn’t include anyway to route the chit electronically, so you ended up having to print off three copies of the chit in order to get it approved.  It’s amazing that no one thought that an electronic version of something is no good unless you have a way of passing it on electronically to the next person in the chain of command.  Fifteen years later the Navy figured it out and decided to develop an entirely electronic leave system, whereby your leave chit would be generated electronically and would also be routed through the chain of command, thereby saving you from having to print.  Perfect!  Unfortunately, because the people at the top of the chain don’t trust those new fangled computers, they still require you to print off a copy and route it manually, effectively doubling the amount of work required!  Simply incredible.

The biggest problem with the Navy trying to go paperless is that until recently there really was no good way to carry around a bunch of electronic documents from one meeting to the next, so people would simply store the docs on their desktops and then print off what they needed for the next meeting.  This is the second part of the paperless revolution.  The Navy has already accomplished the first part, which is getting everyone to generate their work electronically, now they just need a way for people to share that work in a manner other than printing.  What is needed to complete the paperless revolution is some sort of portable device that is small, unobtrusive, easy to use (i.e. long battery life and fast operating system), can be carried back and forth, and can store thousands of documents and access thousands more.  Basically, the Navy needs to get everyone an iPad.  However, since the Navy can’t even afford color copies there’s no way they’re going to buy everyone an iPad, so how about just letting people using their own iPads (or similar devices)?  Unfortunately, Navy networks aren’t allowed to operate with third party applications (hey, Apple, how’s it feel to be called a third party!) so even if I wanted to drop my own cash on an iPad (which would actually be really useful since the majority of my day is spent running back and forth between different meetings in different buildings and I’m never sure exactly what documents I’m going to need) I still wouldn’t be able to use it with the Navy systems.

Navy, if you’re serious about winning the Global War on Toner (GWOT), here’s what you need to do:

1.      Win peoples’ hearts and minds.  Your ‘no color’ policy is alienating the local populace, and until you recognize the reality of the situation on the ground, you’ll never succeed at lowering your printing costs.  This leads into point two, which is:

2.       Learn more about the local culture.  The reason your printing costs aren’t decreasing is because you’ve turned the idea of a color copy into a status symbol.  By limiting who can get color copies, you’ve created a whole new standard of self-importance amongst the rank and file.  “Ooohh…color copies and single sided!  That must be one important brief he’s working on!”

3.      Develop an infrastructure so the people can support themselves.  If you allow people to upload documents to their personal tablet computers they won’t have to carry all that paper back and forth to meetings, meaning your overhead will immediately begin to drop.  People don’t print because they love the smell of freshly pressed toner, they print because they have no other way of carrying their docs with them.  Think about how many pages are printed for the purpose of a meeting, only to be immediately thrown into the burn bag as soon as the meeting is over.  You could cut all of that waste if you just allowed people to upload docs to their tablets.

Winning the Global War on Toner won’t be easy, it will take time, energy, and money, but you’re already half way there and if you provide people with an alternative to growing poppies (sorry, I mean printing) you’ll find that people are eager to make the switch, and before you know it, your printing costs will have dropped, your productivity will be up, and the defense budget will be balanced!  Now, go print off ten copies of this post and show it to your boss so he can run it up the chain for approval!

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Things I should care about but just don’t…

February 24, 2011

Here’s a quick synopsis of all that’s apparently wrong with the world and why I just can’t bring myself to care:

1.  The Middle East:  For a very long time, the Middle East was my thing.  I lived there for a few months, I studied it in college and grad school, I deployed their twice, and I avidly followed the latest doings and shenanigans of whoever happened to be threatening to destroy the world on that particular day.  Simply put, in every job I’ve ever had, I’ve been the Middle East guy.  Now, with what appears to be a chance to genuinely change the face of the Arab world, which will undoubtedly have far reaching effects on Israel and the United States, I just don’t care.  It’s kind of like your friend who swears he’ll never drink and drive again – after the fifth broken promise, you just stop paying attention, and even when he actually appears to be clearing up his act, you still barely get excited.  It also doesn’t help that, so far, the countries involved are ones I really don’t care about.  Tunisia?  Unless Dizzy Gillespie is leading the revolt, I don’t care.  Algeria?  I’ll give you five bucks if you can find it on a map.  Libya?  What is this, 1989?  Wake me when the fires reach Saudi Arabia or Iran, and then only if it causes the price of gas to go up (which it will).

2.  The budget:  OK, this one I really should care about, what with being a defense contractor and all, but again, I am so sick of listening to the fantastically hypocritical Republicans wail against the evils of government spending, all while the limp noodle (I’m cleaning up my language for Nat) Democrats just lie there, taking the beating like they just switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and didn’t bother to find a decent nose tackle and are now thinking about drafting a quarterback…(sorry, different post).  Seriously, Democrats, what on earth is wrong with you!?  Are you afraid of appearing to drop to the level of Republicans so you refrain from engaging with them on a baser level?  If that’s the case, then you might as well not even bother fundraising for 2012 because, guess what, this is America, where the quality of your argument means nothing compared to the volume at which you shout it.  Example:  The vast majority of our projected deficits are caused by the money that is going into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  And when I say the vast majority, I mean, the vast majority!  Like, 75%!  (speaking of which, how is it that Republicans are so good at getting people to care about such arcane issues?  First it was health care reimbursement premiums, now it’s the deficit?  Every Republican is now a policy wonk, which is funny because Republicans love nothing more than making fun of policy wonks, anyways…) So what do they focus on?  Funding for the arts, student loan programs, and urban renewal projects, some of which have a total yearly expenditure of $2,000,000.  Two million?  My office spends more than that on post it notes!  Let’s say we cut that entire program and gave the money back to the taxpayers – they would each receive .005 cents.  Yay!  The American dream is now within my grasp!  Democrats, why on earth aren’t you calling the Republicans out on this crap?  Why am I not seeing you guys running through the streets with your hair on fire screaming at the top of your lungs all the fantastic examples of Republican hypocrisy?  I remember thinking during the presidential debates of 2008 that Obama, for all his charm and charisma, simply didn’t know how to throw a knockout punch, which is why the democratic primary dragged on to the point of absurdity.  When people are getting excited about how the Puerto Rico vote will influence the outcome, it’s gone on too long.  Well, guess what, here we are two years later, and instead of knockout punches we’re getting a bunch of feints and jabs.  Meanwhile, the Republican’s have decided to quit boxing altogether and are simply bull rushing everyone in their way.

3.  Glee:  I’m really getting tired of this show.  Even the music is starting to suck.  I was willing to put up with the horrible plot / dialogue / character development so long as they kept belting out Bon Jovi and Journey, but apparently 80’s classic rock is no longer cool, as evidenced by how the cast now appears contractually obligated to make fun of the very songs that made them famous in the first place.   Now, their big thing is they are going to write their own song for Regionals.  I should be excited, but I simply don’t care.

 
You know what I do care about?  Poopy diapers.  Poopy diapers and spit up.  I guess most of my caring energy is going towards my son these days.  Wait a second…all this turmoil in the Middle East might somehow affect the security of the United States, and my son lives in the United States…uh oh…I had better start following the Middle East again.  Wait another second, the budget battles will severely affect the role of government and how tax money is spent, which will affect college costs, and since I want my son to go to college (and not all on my dime) I had better start following the budget battles more closely…and Glee…they say it’s good for a baby’s development if he listens to music at an early age, and my son is developing…and…screw it, Glee, you still suck.

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Reasons to resist eReaders

February 21, 2011

The demise of Borders, a store I vividly recall frequenting in my youth, appears to be one more indicator that the future of the printed word lies with eReaders and not physical books, or at least that’s what the articles describing the reasons for Border’s demise appear to be arguing.  Personally, I don’t get the whole eReader thing.  As with most modern pieces of technology, the eReader doesn’t appear to do anything to actually enhance the reading experience, it simply makes it more convenient.  Of course, with that convenience comes a whole new set of problems that the reader previously did not have to worry about.  Here’s my top five reasons I think eReaders are a scam:

5.  You can carry around your entire library on one device.  Really?  Who cares?  Are you that fast a reader that you are constantly worried you’ll finish a novel halfway through your morning commute and will be stuck without something for your 45 minute trip home?  I can understand if you’re going on vacation and you don’t want to schlep a bunch of books with you, but all in all this seems like a marketing attempt to play off the ability of an mp3 player to store your entire music collection.

4.  You can buy and download a book instantly.  Yay!  Now I don’t have to wait those unbearable three days to get my new book!  I mean, it’s not like you could order your next book when you were on the last hundred pages or so of your current read, thereby assuring it would arrive at your doorstop the moment you were finishing up the previous one.  I think this is an attempt to tap into the impulsive buying nature of Americans – just think, you’re there watching your favorite tv host hawk some new book and you think to yourself, “Hmmm…that sounds interesting…I’ll go ahead and buy that!”  Boom.  Impulse purchase acted on, something that might have been avoided had you known you would have to wait a few days before actually getting the book.  Now you’re stuck with yet another book by Malcom Gladwell that will sit deep in the memory files collecting digital dust.

3.  They enhance the reading experience.  Thank god!  It’s high time someone took those boring old books and made them more interactive!  Honestly, I don’t know how those crummy old books ever became popular, what with being constrained by the limits of people’s imaginations and all.

2. eBooks are cheaper.  No, not really.  Maybe some are, but it costs $10 to buy a digital version of a book and unless you absolutely have to have that brand new Tom Clancy hardcover release, you can probably find the same book used on Amazon for cheaper, and you don’t have to purchase the eReader either.  Plus, this whole idea that the eReader is a one time cost is bogus – when was the last time anyone in American was satisfied with their current generation of flat screen tv/smartphone/computer/any piece of electronics.  We’ve been conditioned to constantly upgrade our hardware, and eReaders are no different.

1.  They’re so much easier to carry around.  I know, I know, books are heavy.  But you know what, just about every single person I see using an eReader on the metro pulls them out of a bag or briefcase.  It’s not like buying an eReader will suddenly free you up from having to carry all that other stuff around with you, such as your lunch, organizer, work papers, etc.  You’re still going to have a bag with you to carry all these things, and unless you’re lugging around the complete works of Shakespeare, your book probably doesn’t take up that much room in your bag.

All of that said, I can still see some value in eReaders.  School textbooks seem like an area that could benefit from a quality eReader.  If you travel a lot, and I mean, a lot, they might proof useful.  But all in all, I don’t like ‘em, and my main reason is this:  They can fail.  I have enough stuff in my life that fails more often than not, and the last thing I want to have to worry about when I pick up my book is whether or not it’s going to work.  My digital camera needs fresh batteries, my laptop always needs to be updated and rebooted, the dvds I get from netflix are often scratched, and when I stream them sometimes my router cuts out halfway through.  Hell, even my ice maker doesn’t work half the time!  The point is, this ain’t StarTrek:  Our technology is full of bugs, and the last thing I want is to add one more thing into my life that I can’t guarantee will work when I pick it up.  For the sake of knowing that every time I pick up my book the words will still be on the page, I’m willing to lug around an extra pound or two.

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State of the Union

January 26, 2011

Just a few quick thoughts since I’m fighting some sort of throat thing:

1.  I wish I got congratulated at my job for sitting next to people I don’t like.

2.  It takes serious balls to wear John Boehner’s tie.  Seriously.  Does he refer to his two testicles as the senate and the house, because that’s how big they would need to be to pull off that tie.

3.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  The problem with Republicans is they never do what they say they’re going to do.  The problem with Democrats is they always do what they say they’re going to do.

4.  Obama punked out on the deficit session.  I got all excited when he started talking about the need to address the major sources of spending and not focus on the piddly stuff.  Then he got stuck in that rhetorical swamp of a simile when he started talking about how you don’t remove the engine of a plane in order to make it lighter.  Hey, Obama speech writers – here’s a free one for next year:  If you’re a family trying to balance your budget, you start with the big ticket items like your mortgage and car payments, you don’t focus on how much you spend on cat food or toilet paper.

5.  Republican’s are full of crap.  I know this because in their ‘Pledge to America’ they said that all discretionary spending would be eligible to be cut.  Now they’re claiming that defense spending is, as usual, sacrosanct.  I hate to break it to you, but defense spending falls under the category of discretionary spending.  You want to save 100 billion dollars?  No problem – cancel the 2nd engine for the JSF, DDG 1000, EFV, and FCS, and you’ve easily got your savings.  Instead, they hone in on piddly little line items like the NEA or housing assistance, things that all put together don’t even begin to equal one useless defense project that, because it’s built in someone’s district, is suddenly off limits.  Like I said, full of crap.

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