Category Archives: Rants

Training the dog is easy…

As I mentioned a while ago, I recently adopted a new dog. We are still working out the kinks in our relationship, but so far things seem to be coming along nicely… as long as it’s just the two of us. The problem is that while training the dog is not that hard, that training has to take place within the context of the real world, and that real world is not always as accommodating as I’d like it to be. I mean, I love my dog, but let’s face it: the world does not revolve around him, and that in turn means that I can’t rearrange everyone’s life around his training. If I have someone over, I have to be able to interact with that someone. I can’t exactly afford to spend most of my time instructing my guests on how to act around the dog -that’s not what they are here for- but at the same time I am all too aware that one well intended guest that doesn’t understand that feeding the dog at the table is most definitely not allowed can do away with weeks, if not months, of training. In fact that was pretty much what happened with my first dog (though to be fair I’m not sure if that one was the guests’ fault). She was a former stray, and as such she was used to begging. It was a skill she had relied on for her life, so breaking her out of that particular habit wasn’t easy. Eventually I managed to do it… or so I thought until I had some people over and I realized that what she had learned was that while I wasn’t going to give her anything, everyone else was fair game (what can I say, she wasn’t dumb).

Anyway, back to my current situation. When it comes to my new dog my main headache has been the whole door etiquette thing. I mean, if someone knocks on the door I can’t exactly leave them standing there for five minutes while I try to ensure that the little rascal doesn’t get a chance to dash out the door, and don’t even get me started on what happens when I come back carrying some packages. That situation is compounded by the fact that the dog is still a little shaky when it comes to recognizing his new name (especially when he gets excited), that he is still in the process of getting settled, and that he still doesn’t quite recognize my house like ‘his home’. Yes, I know, he will  get the hang of all of those things eventually, but eventually isn’t now, and the bottom line is that for the time being I can’t even open the door without breaking into a cold sweat.

Trying to address this issue I did what most of us do these days: I turned to the web for help. Unfortunately that research wasn’t particularly successful. The problem is that while there are plenty of articles on how to keep a dog from dashing out the door, finding one that deals with the specific challenges posed by a rescue dog in a realistic way has turned out to be all but impossible (in fact you can probably scratch that ‘all but’ from that statement because I’m still looking). Simply put, the situation most of those articles seem to describe is not the one I am dealing with, nowhere near it. They seem to treat door etiquette as something that should be addressed after basic obedience is in place, they assume that the dog has already mastered other basic commands, that he knows his name, and so on. This is often not the case with a rescue dog, where door etiquette is one of the first things that must be tackled for the dog’s own safety, and where the dog in question is used to being able to roam the streets on his own.

That in itself is a pretty major problem, but in addition to that there is also the fact that most of the articles I have come across seem to have beer written by dog trainers. That is understandable given the subject matter, but unfortunately it also means that, while they are great for training, they don’t seem to take into account such trifles as real life. Oh, it would be great if I could simply park my dog in an isolated pocket out of the time/space continuum until the whole training thing is conveniently out of the way and he can be let out safely, but that’s not the way the world works. Regardless of my dog’s training status I still have to be able to interact with other people, open the door, go to the grocery store and so on… unfortunately according to most of the articles I have come across whenever I do that I am undermining my own efforts because ensuring that the dog behaves as he should is not my only (in fact it’s not even my primary) concern.

Yeah, right, welcome to the real world.

As I said above, I know this is just a minor bump in the road. I know we will overcome this, that my dog will get the hang of it eventually, and I will be able to go back to opening the door without giving it a second thought, but for the time being things are a little complicated, and I’d love to be able to find some help that is actually helpful. Unfortunately most of the information I have been able to find so far seems to be built around one very basic premise: training the dog is easy… all you have to do is get rid of the rest of the world.

Blurring the lines

I saw an ad today, I don’t really remember what it was for, but it was one of those futuristic ones with a world dominated by touch-screen interfaces, gleaming surfaces and the like. The thing is that while those ads are supposed to represent a sort of utopia, they chill me to the bone. Yes, we live in a world that is increasingly interconnected, but at the same time I would like to keep some boundaries, thank you oh so very much. I would also like to retain the right to just be me… or at least I would like to retain some semblance of control. No, I’m not a technophobe, but I see no need to rush in just because some marketing guy (or gal) somewhere has new gadget to sell. I want to be able to adopt only those technologies I believe benefit me, and I want to be able to adopt them when I want to and in my own terms, but at times I feel like I can’t. One very simple example: there are a growing  number of services online that either require that you provide them with your mobile phone number outright, or that keep nagging you to supply that information every time you log in, where you don’t even have a ‘don’t ask me again’ box you can tick. Yes, I realize that an SMS message can help keep your account safe, and because of that giving your service provider your mobile phone number can be a good idea, but the thing is that I don’t know of any law that requires people to have a mobile phone (yet), and none of these companies list having a mobile phone as a basic requirement in their TOS, so why do they demand that you provide them with the mobile number you are not required to have in order to take advantage of their services?

Sure, I know this example applies only to a small fringe group. I know most people have a mobile phone (if not a smartphone) and don’t see such a requirement as a burden, but while having a mobile phone has a number of undeniable benefits, I am also aware that there are some who have chosen to opt out of that particular bandwagon, and I can most definitely appreciate their reasoning. Let’s face it, there are some distinct advantages to not being available 24/7, and to not being expected to be available 24/7. It’s called retaining the ability to set some basic boundaries because, let’s face it, just owning a mobile phone  is enough to create certain expectations that all but impossible to overcome (family time? What family time? Your boss has a right to call you whenever he/she wants, he/she expects you to pick up the phone and, seeing how you know it is your boss that’s calling you, you know you better take that call).

Anyway, I am wondering why that add bothered me so much. I guess it was because in light of what we have learned in the past couple of months about electronic surveillance I have come to distrust mobile phones more and more (not that I was ever too keen of the blasted things to begin with). I see them as intrusive, as tools that can all too easily be turned against us, and I also see the way in which they have become a de facto requirement. No they haven’t passed a law that says we have to carry a GPS tracking device with us at all times just yet, but almost.

Who is to blame?

Let’s tackle a little scenario: a man has an affair, it is not a one time thing, and after a number of years someone finally clues his wife in to what is going on. The woman is understandably angry, but instead of apologizing the man reacts violently, blaming the one who told her of the affair for all his troubles. After all, as far as he is concerned the problem is not so much the fact that he was cheating on his wife all along, but rather the fact that someone had the nerve to  fill her in. Up to that point his life was going great, and if only that no-good busybody had kept his/her mouth shut the good times would have rolled on.

I think we can all agree that, in spite of what the guy in this particular scenario may think, the fault belongs not so much on the shoulders of the one who clued his wife in, but rather on his own. He was the one who chose to have an affair, that’s what caused the problem, and therefore he is responsible for the consequences of his actions, end of story.

This is the scenario that comes to my mind when I hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff moaning about the fact that Snowden’s revelations have damaged the relations between the US and other countries, or that he has affected the importance of trust, or some other such nonsense.

Just as in the case of the cheating husband that was mentioned above, the damage was not done by Snowden, the damage was done by the existence of the programs he revealed in the first place. No programs, no problem.

Of course, leaving it at that would make it to easy for all other governments, it would let them off the hook, and the truth is that they are most definitely not the innocent victims they claim to be. In fact chances are that most of them have engaged in similar acts within the limitations of their own technical capabilities, that at least some of them  had an understanding with the US when it came to the programs that have been revealed, and that some of them may even have benefited from some sort of unofficial cooperation agreement… not that they want their own citizens to know about that. In that regard their ‘outrage’ is nothing but posturing, and it is precisely because that outrage is nothing but posturing that, in spite of all the moaning about the lasting damage that was done by Snowden’s revelations, at least at the government level life will (unfortunately) soon go back to normal.

Selling an end to privacy

Earlier today I was thinking about a conversation I had with one of my best friends on the issue of privacy long before the subject became a fashionable one. She had a new baby, I had just microchipped one of my pets for the first time a couple of days prior (yes, it was that long ago), there was a kidnapping that was making headlines, and we were talking about safety. I remember asking her what would she do if someone were to come to her and tell her that there was a new GPS chip that could be implanted under her baby’s skin, one that would ensure that, no matter what happened, the child’s location could be pinpointed in a matter of seconds anywhere in the world. The trade off was that such an implant would be permanent, her child would be tracked for life… and that since she was the one who would making that call, her baby would have no say on the matter.

To me the idea of being tracked 24/7 was horrifying, and she was not too keen on it herself, but at the same time when she weighed her distaste for the thing against her own fears –even if those fears revolved around a very remote possibility– she hesitated. No, she didn’t want to be tracked herself, but the possibility of allaying what were some of her worst fears, fears that were actually being fanned by a media machine, was obviously alluring to her. Continue reading Selling an end to privacy

An obit for the living

On June 28, the opinion page of Yahoo news ran an editorial by Cynthia Tucker with the title MANDELA’S LEGACY OF FORGIVENESS AND HOPE. It begins as follows:

EDITORS: This is a bonus column to be run in the event of Nelson Mandela’s death.

Um… okay… except for the fact that as of this writing (July 2, 2013) the man is not dead.

Now, I realize that for the most part the obits have already been written (maybe leaving a blank for the date), it’s just that most editors have had the common sense not to publish them. And I also suspect that, with the 4th of July coming up some people may have filed their obits before going away. The thing is that I would also expect someone to be paying attention, especially at a major site such as Yahoo, but this article has been there for five days by now. It is unseemly.

Of course, considering the even more unseemly spectacle of the struggle among Mandela’s future heirs as they jockey for position to inherit what is bound to be a very lucrative empire (going so far as to steal some of their own relatives bones), Yahoo’s little faux pas seems incredibly minor.

I know Mandela is dying, in fact a part of me is surprised by the fact that he is still clinging to life as I write this. The man is 94 years old, and the outcome is inevitable, but he has fought enough, and done enough, to deserve one final bit of dignity: the right to die in peace, and to have his final wishes when it comes to his final resting place honored… that, and maybe that we should hold back with the actual obits for a little while longer.

UPDATE (July 5, 2013): okay, it looks like Yahoo has finally deleted that post.

In defense of Lance Armstrong

With the 100th edition of Tour de France underway Lance Armstrong is back in the news.

To begin with let me make a couple of things perfectly clear: the guy is a liar, a bully and a cheat, to say nothing of an arrogant SOB, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away scot-free. Now that we have stated the obvious let’s see if we can dig a little deeper, because the truth is that things are rarely as simple as they seem.

First of all, to blame him for the culture of doping that is/was/whatever prevalent in cycling seems a little disingenuous as far as I am concerned. Yes, he was part of it, in fact he was a major player in it, and that is something I suspect everyone knew at some level all along… but the sad fact is that pretty much everyone that was ever in the podium with him has been suspended for a doping offense at one point or another. That is why, when he was disqualified, his former victories were declared vacant rather than being credited to the guy who had come in second as is usually the norm. In that regard he is not wrong when he says that at least in those days it would have been impossible to win the Tour without doping.

Second: yes he is an arrogant SOB, but then again that –along with a ruthlessly competitive spirit– is pretty much par for the course for most top tier athletes. No one can make it to the top in that fiercely competitive environment without being utterly convinced that s/he is unquestionably the best… and without them being determined to do whatever it takes to prove it.

The thing is that while I am not defending what Lance Armstrong did as an athlete –or what he did as a human being in his attempts to cover up for what he had done as an athlete– I think that the question of what he did with the bully pulpit his success granted him  is one that should also be taken into account, and the answer is that he was the impetus behind a multi-million dollar foundation that was dedicated to the fight against cancer. Let’s be clear about that: even with his personal history, he didn’t have to do that, and it was in his work with that foundation, not in the roads of France, that he earned my respect… and it is also here that the extent of his downfall bothers me.

That he should be disqualified is undeniable –that is a matter of fairness– and the same is true of his being deserted by his  sponsors. In fact I will even go so far as to agree that, as far as role models go, he makes for a pretty questionable one, but at the same time I can’t help but to feel that the extent to which he is being demonized is excessive and unlike anything we have ever seen before. As I said, most of the guys he ever shared the podium with were caught doping at one point or another, and none of them has been hounded to the extent that Lance Armstrong has been.

Now, I understand the principle of the higher they rise, the harder they fall, and I realize that few have risen as high as he did, but at the same time I feel that things got a little out of hand in that regard. I mean, to have sponsors demanding their money back ten years after the fact? Sorry but as far as I am concerned those sponsors got their money’s worth. They built successful marketing campaigns based on his image for well over a decade, those campaigns kept being produced because they basically paid for themselves, and if those sponsors were so blinded by their greed and the comeback kid narrative that the man seemed to embody that they chose to look the other way when it came to the widespread allegations of doping that have surrounded the guy all along, then they have no one to blame but themselves. The race organizers are well within their rights when they say that they want their prize money back, but as far as I am concerned they are the only ones… after all, I don’t see those sponsors rushing to offer a refund to those customers whose purchase choices may have been influenced by their campaigns (I mean, try to return a worn out pair of sneakers that you bought some ten years ago arguing that Lance Armstrong’s image influenced your purchase and see how fast you don’t get your money back).

As for where I stand on Lance Armstrong and this whole sordid mess as a whole, the truth is that I (and I suspect a good chunk of the population) care a lot more about the fight against cancer than I do about either cycling, the Tour de France or doping, and –like it or not– the man was one of the most visible champions of that fight. It is that champion that has been sacrificed in an attempt to clean up sport, and while I agree that putting an end to doping is a worthwhile goal, with millions of people dying of cancer every year I can’t help but to feel that Lance Armstrong’s downfall is something of a Pyrrhic victory.

Keep your powder dry

Another day of following the Snowden saga, another day in which I am left scratching my head, wondering if the US are really that oblivious to the world around them or if they are playing a different kind of game… and what the reasons for doing that may be.

To that last question I have no answers, but the way in which they keep demanding that Russia hand Snowden over seems somewhat suspicious. Why do I say that? Well, to begin with, let’s reverse the situation. What would happen if a Russian or a Chinese former contractor had done something akin to what Snowden has done, and then fled to the US? Would the US just hand that contractor over saying ‘sorry about the inconvenience’? The answer is no, especially not if the situation had unfolded in such a visible way. Domestically doing something like that would cause an outrage. Yes, in the US there is a debate over whether Snowden is a hero or a villain, but to the rest of the world the answer is clear, and I’m assuming the US government is smart enough to know it, so what are they hoping to gain by betting so much political capital on this particular fight?

Yes, I understand that this whole thing is an embarrassment as far as they are concerned, and that they want Snowden and his secrets  back (desperately), but here is an odd concept: foreign government are supposed to serve foreign people, and while a small country such as Ecuador may be bullied into thinking that sheltering Snowden is more trouble than it is worth, neither China nor Russia can afford to be seen as giving in to the US’ huffing and puffing.

Oh, and while we are at it, let’s not ignore the fact that whatever information Snowden took with him, chances are that by now it has a dead-man’s switch attached (something happens to Snowden and the information gets released… all of it), so even if they were to get their man, the resulting damage could be a lot worse. On the other hand the information in question is of a somewhat time sensitive nature, it has to be. Programs change, technology evolves, so why not wait? Yes, they want their guy and their secrets back, but at what cost? Or is it a completely different game that they are playing?

The art of misdirection

Like a lot of people, I’ve been following the news regarding Edward Snowden these past couple of days. It’s been entertaining, I’ll give you that, but at the same time I find the whole saga to be a fascinating example of misdirection as our attention is deliberately diverted away from the message by focusing on the messenger.

The newsfeeds may make us think we are informed, and the fact that we can all publish our thoughts (just like I am doing now) can give us a sense of power, but at the same time, whether we realize it or not, we are still being manipulated by the powers that be as we always have been.

It’s frustrating, but at the same time I have to admit that it has also been masterfully done.

Longing for the days of Geocities

No, I don’t miss the awful design or the unbelievable slowness of the web in those early days, but I do miss the passion, the relative privacy and the freedom. I long for that web that was still mostly in the hands of its users, before governments and businesses came in and claimed it for themselves.

Okay, so maybe that web is is not really dead, if you dig deep enough it’s still there, and there are some major sites, such as wikipedia and other wikis, that still hold on to that original ethos, but the grown ups have definitely not just moved in, they have also taken over, even if it’s not always immediately obvious.

Oh, on the surface there are still free and better alternatives to Geocities, but even there there is no getting away from the marketers, trackers and the dataminers that will turn your content into a Trojan horse to find out all they can not just about you, but also about your readers (to be honest, that trend probably began when Geocities was acquired by Yahoo, but I’m talking about what was the original concept behind Geocities here, so let’s not quibble about it).

What can I say? I like privacy, and I am not to keen on the way in which the web, something that in its early days held such promise when it came to freedom, has been betrayed and turned into a tool that is used by governments and corporations to keep track people’s most private thoughts.

WOT the heck!

Having been sick in these past few days I’ve had plenty of time for pointless browsing (what can I say, while under normal circumstances I grumble at the fact that there are only twenty-four hours a day, being sick and feeling like my brain had been turned into molasses left me feeling that those twenty-four hours were way too many). Anyway, one of the things that caught my eye is the behavior of one of my browser’s add-ons: WOT (that would be Web of Trust).

It is an interesting concept, a rating system that is meant to help you identify dangerous and misleading sites, but in quite a few instances it was what was revealed by the ratings that I found to be the most telling aspect of it all… it was also there that I found myself wondering just how useful this thing happens to be in the real world. Continue reading WOT the heck!

Pick your own world

ARGH, I hate having to even think about marketing, and yet here I am… AGAIN! I have released my books, but as usual it is what comes after that that seems like the most daunting prospect. I know I should at least give it a try, I get that, but the thing is that while I enjoy blogging (at least to a certain extent, I’m not so fond of it in those days in which it seems to have become something of a chore), I am not good at self-promoting, I’d much rather be writing, and even when it comes to blogging I know I have failed miserably when it comes to keeping this thing professional (read I’d rather blog about cats and hammocks than about me, me, ME!!!). To make matters worse there is also the fact that, as soon as I start looking for marketing ideas my mind begins to wander… there are so many things I find so much more appealing, and unfortunately my sales, or lack thereof, tend to reflect that fact.

Sometimes I get worried about that, but then I turn on my computer and I see two paths opening in front of me. I can write or I can market. I can focus on the real world, or I can push it aside and build my own. I hesitate for a moment and then I click on my word processor… that gateway to the world I’d rather live in.

Not everything is a disease… or even a problem

I was reading an article over at the Huffington Post about the problems people have staying asleep (you can find it here if you are interested). It offers some sensible suggestions, and a number of dire warnings about depression, bipolar disorders and underlying conditions… the one thing the article doesn’t do is  mention the one that, in my experience, works best: don’t panic, listen to your body (this may take some tinkering with your schedule), sleep when your body tells you it’s tired, wake up when you are rested, and you will be just fine… even if you are waking up in the middle of the night and sleeping at what most people deem to be odd hours.

Let’s face it: we live in an environment that has imposed a rhythm on our lives that at times feels totally unnatural. In fact in quite a few countries taking an afternoon nap (the famous siesta) is part of the daily routine, and it makes sense.

Now, I realize that as a writer I am privileged in that regard. I can arrange my schedule in any way I want. That means that I can go to bed, sleep for three or four hours, wake up in the middle of the night –when no one is around– and work for three or four hours without interruptions, and then I can go back to sleep for a couple more hours. After that, more often than not I can take a long nap after lunch. Doing that I am perfectly rested throughout the day, and I don’t even own an alarm clock.

I am not advocating such a schedule for everyone, but it works for me, and that is precisely the point. Just the fact that your body complains when you try to browbeat it into submitting to a schedule that doesn’t suit it is not a sign of an underlying medical condition. It is a sign that we live in an artificial environment that ignores the body’s natural rhythm, and if you find a way to work around that particular problem you may soon come to the realization that there is nothing wrong with you at all.

Dulling the world

Yesterday I came across an article in Yahoo that really bothered me.  It was called ‘Don’t Let Your Kids Study These Majors’, and as you can probably tell it tells parents to despair if their children dare to dream of becoming something as despicable as an architect, an artist, a philosopher, an archaeologist, an anthropologist or a film-maker… scratch that, it tells parents to despair if their children dare to dream, period.

So what wonderful alternative majors does this article have in mind  as  being a far more sensible choice for these misinformed youths who dream of pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge, or who love beauty. Well, there is accounting, elementary  education, finance, business and healthcare administration.

Now, these are all fine majors if you are passionate about those fields, but while it is true that you have to choose a major with an eye on you professional future, there is more to life that dollars and cents, and pushing kids into fields they hate because it is more ‘sensible’ seems like a terrible idea to me.

Let’s face it, a budding philosopher who despises math would probably make a terrible accountant anyway. Continue reading Dulling the world

How the heck did Quantcast get here?

Okay, this is disturbing: Ghosterly is showing a tracker by an advertising network (Quantcast) as being blocked from this site… seeing how I know I never added such a tracker in the first place, I have to assume that a plugin is to blame. That means that I have to go and test them to try and find the culprit… and then I am going to have to decide whether I’d rather lose the functionality involved or live with their unwanted snooping. I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: I’ve identified the culprit, and unfortunately it’s WordPress’s very own Jetpack. I’ve added a privacy-protection plugin to block this ‘feature’… did I ever mention that I really don’t like being tracked?

The last generation

I have been reading quite a bit lately about a book called What to Expect When No One Is Expecting about the coming demographic collapse and why the fact that since the end of the much-hyped baby-boom more than forty years ago fertility has taken a nosedive. Now, I freely admit that I haven’t read the book, in fact I have no intention of reading it either, but I have gone over the list of contributing factors (contraception, abortion, women daring to work and have interests of their own, and the costs involved in bringing up a single little bundle of snot)… and the truth is that I have found it highly entertaining.

Sorry, I know I should be taking this seriously, and I agree that the whole cost thing probably does play a role, but I suspect that even there the book is coming at it from a different angle. Anyway, the thing is that most of the commentaries I’ve encountered (okay, let’s be honest, what I’ve read are mostly criticisms) focus primarily either on explaining why the data is flawed and the demographic decline is not really such a big deal, or on explaining why arguing that women should just shut up, shelve their ambitions, and go back to making babies is wrong. As a college educated, middle-class woman with no kids I would like to offer my own perspective (and I must say that this list in unlikely to make anyone happy):

Continue reading The last generation