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Call Me Fred

30 Oct

Increasingly, I feel like Fred Flintstone stumbling through George Jetson’s world. Just this week I flew down to San Diego to attend Partners, Teradata’s user group conference, where cutting-edge data geeks meet with state-of-the-art computer geeks and wow each other with what they’ve done in the past year or so. If you want to know about the most advanced uses for enterprise intelligence, this is the key event to attend.

But it wasn’t the myriad conference and keynote sessions that made me feel like the bumbling Mr. Flintstone once again. It was my flight to Southern California.

Since moving to Oregon, by deliberate choice, through the ease of working remotely, with the reduction in corporate travel budgets, and from the utter inconvenience of air travel, I’ve reduced my time tethered to the airline industry from two to three weeks a month to two to three weeks a year.


My reduced exposure to the limitless tedium of airports around the world means I’ve missed out on a few rather substantial changes in George Jetson-style processes and services. Naturally, I’d heard of these advances, but I’ve never experienced them firsthand until this week.

When Alaska Airlines flight 576 deposited its load of passengers into the cramped terminal at San Diego International Airport mid-day on Sunday this week, the line of departing travelers leading into the terminal stretched endlessly throughout the concourse, blocking the paths of those who were following the Ground Transportation and Baggage signs. I overheard someone complain that they’d been in line for 45 minutes. And from where he was standing it was clear he would have another half hour before he got through security. I made a mental note to arrive a bit earlier than normal when it was my day to leave.

Upon my departure I saw the reason for the very long line: the x-ray security machine. It adds at least 20 seconds to each and every passengers’ trip through the ever-changing labyrinth of airport security. Ten of those seconds come from the necessary time it takes for the machine to bombard your body with a tiny dose of x-rays. Another ten comes from the time it takes for the Transportation Security Administration agent to explain what you’re supposed to do in the x-ray booth. So, while listening to the instructions, putting your thumbs on your head while holding your wallet and counting to ten as the machine scans your body, the people behind you wait…and wait…and wait.

Privacy and health concerns aside, x-ray machines compound the already complex passenger boarding process. If they were a true breakthrough, such as envisioned in the 1990 sci-fi flick Total Recall, where you get x-rayed while carrying all your gear to the plane without breaking stride, I’d give the security process two thumbs up. But you still need to pull your laptop out of your bag, take off your jacket, remove your belt, empty your pockets of keys and change, slip out of your shoes, and the rest. As it stands now, the x-ray process is yet one more reason not to fly. It adds extra time to the already long, mind-numbing experience of air travel.

The second technology advance I witnessed was WiFi in the air. Alaska Airlines flight 233 back to PDX offered me the chance to send e-mail from seat 26C, which I did for free, announcing to friends that I was sending them a message from 35,000 feet above terra firma. At first, I thought it was pretty cool. Then I noticed everyone around me diligently bent over their laptops working away harder than ever. What might be a fun or convenient new service for some was mostly another tool to keep workers working longer, harder, for no extra pay.

This trip reminded me once again that I’ll take my Fred Flintstone existence over George Jetson’s world any day.


Oh, No! Not Another School Reunion!

18 Aug

There are two kinds of people: those who attend school reunions and those who do not. My wife does, while I don’t, proving once again that opposites attract.

Next month Cathie will fly to California to attend her 40th high school reunion. Although I graduated the same year as she did from a nearby school, which is also having a shindig for its aging alumni, I won’t be going. In fact, according to a forwarded message I received yesterday from a distant acquaintance, I’m on a “missing alumni” list and am being urged to become “found.”

I’ll stay firmly, resolutely AWOL, thanks just the same.

In my defense, if you can call it that, I also did not attend my college graduation ceremonies for either of my degrees. I didn’t even go to Cathie’s college graduation. (I stayed home and prepared the party, so I got a pass from her. Although I probably would have devised another excuse, if the party planning pose hadn’t worked.) I am, at least, consistent in my rejection of the forced frivolity foisted on us by our alma maters.

You might think I hated school, but you’d be wrong. In high school I was reasonably popular, elected to student council and even voted in as student body vice president in my senior year. In college I succeeded in both undergrad and grad schools. I have no complaints, so you might wonder why I reject all attempts to woo me back to campus to celebrate my past.

First, and this is probably common among those of us who decline to be “active alumni” for our old schools, I don’t know any of the people there. Oh, sure, I know their names and I may be able to conjure a connection between a face 40 years later and a nametag, but I do not know the individuals behind the tags and the smiles. And the best I’ll be able to do to get to know them is listen to a laundry list of their deeds since graduation. Jobs. Kids. Grandkids. Homes. Vacations. Illnesses. Deaths. Just a litany of facts that do not actually tell me who these strangers are.

Worse, I’ll be expected to rattle off the facts of my life. While possibly interesting to a listener, to me they reveal little of who I am as an individual, and I get bored just imagining myself talking about my past. I am much more engaged in my today than in my yesterdays.

Finally, I don’t like the con game being foisted on former students. School administrators like reunions because they get to lengthen their list of potential donors. To the school, reunions are just another revenue pump primed with nostalgia.

I know Cathie will have a fine time at this reunion just as she has had at all the others she has attended. However, she tells me that before her 20th reunion, which I had declined to escort her to, and in an alleged inebriated state, I had promised to take her to her 50th reunion. Believe me, I’m already working on my excuse. It will be a doozy.

Culling Strategies in Twitter

23 Jul

In Twitter’s highly dynamic social network, it’s important to have a culling strategy as a way to connect to only the best, most interesting people. Here’s mine.

I start when someone wants to follow me. First, I don’t automatically follow people back as many do. In fact, I don’t automatically let them follow me. I review their bio, if they have one, and read a dozen or so tweets. If they are hardcore SEO “experts” I block them. If they are pornbots, I block them. If they are kids tweeting about their inane lives, I block them. If all their tweets are in a language I can’t read, I block them. If they don’t tweet, I block them.

So, yes, my culling strategy starts by cutting down the number of people I permit to follow me. A few people protect their tweets initially, forcing users to ask

permission to follow. I believe that limits the number of potential interesting people in your network. I say, let strangers, even the downright strange seek me out, then let the block function do its magic if need be.

Next, like most folks on Twitter, I follow those whose content I appreciate. But, as they say in investment circles, past performance is no indicator of how those I follow will act in the future. So, I regularly review those I follow. Occasionally, my initial impulse to follow someone was misguided and I discover that I no longer appreciate their content, so I unfollow. But my main reason for dropping people is that they have ceased tweeting. I allow for a hiatus of a month or so, but if their quietude goes beyond that I figure they have quit, got bored, maybe even died. Who knows? Doesn’t matter. They’re gone.

Finally, once in a while, I return to my followers list and review folks against the criteria I apply when I learn someone new is following me. Occasionally I will discover someone who has sneaked through my filters or has changed their spots and become a tweeter I do not appreciate, so I block them.

Having a good Twitter culling strategy for both those you follow and those who you let follow you requires a bit more effort, but it makes for a much more enjoyable social network.

Location-based Marketing? Get Lost.

13 Jun

Given the state of GPS tools consumers use today, privacy advocates have little to fear from marketing geniuses who want to sell us stuff based on where we happen to be at any given moment. That’s because GPS devices don’t know anything about our position worth a marketer’s time, let alone money.

Take my bike ride yesterday. According to my MotionX-GPS app on my iPhone I hit a high speed of 27.4 mph. However, my Garmin 205 GPS clocked me at a maximum 28.6 mph on the same downhill segment. When I crested the highest part of my ride, the Garmin registered the elevation as 944 feet, while the MotionX product had me 43 feet higher at 987. Once I plotted my ride into Google Earth, the GPS software had me starting my ride from inside my neighbor’s living room not my driveway more than 150 feet away.

Until 2000, the military used technology to render commercial GPS units intentionally inaccurate up to 100 meters. But business interests prevailed and the Pentagon stopped screwing with the data so GPS devices today are said to accurate up to a couple of meters.

Fat chance. That’s not been my experience, nor that of users of Android, Tom-Tom, and other navigational electronics. Maybe the military just said they stopped messing up the GPS info and kept up its interference.

Although I am disappointed that these digital toys are so lame, I am slightly mollified by the fact that marketers salivating over the potential to pinpoint their pitches to where I happen to be standing are doomed. The likelihood that the lure of their longitudinal and latitudinal come-ons will be relevant is laughable today.

Privacy and the Loss of Self

14 May

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the privacy wind blows. To take just one of many studies on the matter, KPMG’s annual Consumers & Convergence 2009 survey of 4,000+ global users reports that 87% of respondents are concerned with their privacy online. So it’s silly for Facebook to act surprised or defensive when users and analysts castigate the company for apparently breaching a trust about how it exploits the treasure trove of an individual’s data on its servers.

Keep in mind that privacy is different than security, which focuses on the loss of such important data as credit card information. (In that KPMG study, people give equal rank to their concerns for both.) Privacy is about the handing over of information about who you are and what you do. Losing your privacy to the likes of Facebook may not actually cost you a dime.

But you may lose your sense of self.

We all like to think of ourselves as unique individuals. We see our internal selves marching to the beat of a singular drummer. Like the character in the TV series “The Prisoner” we bellow into the uncaring universe: “I am not a number. I am a free man.”

The problem is that in the Google era of aggregated information, that’s not the case. It probably never was.

We all fall neatly into buckets of characteristics shared by others. Lots of others. Philosophically we may argue effectively that we are discrete individuals, but practically we are a proven part of a collective that can be categorized. To our feigned horror, the aggregated categories that we fall into are exploited by marketers who want to sell us stuff; and, to a true horror, we fall one-by-one into the hands of governments that wish to keep tabs on us to keep us in line.

Frankly, I’m not concerned about losing my privacy to advertisers who have the perfect product for a politically progressive, baseball fanatic who rides a bicycle, drinks craft-brew beers, and reads fiction and history. Getting that kind of targeted marketing would be fantastic. Leave it up to me to click the Buy button.

But I am very concerned about local, state, and federal agencies who might track how often I read Glenn Greenwald, visit TPMmuckraker, or retweet unabashed radicals. If and when that happens, it will be more than a false sense of my lost individualism that will have occurred. It will be my loss of freedom.