Don’t you think the customer knows his/her own address?

Yarg snarl yarg.

I run an online business. People pay me via PayPal, or use that service as a credit-card broker.

Every now and then, I get a popup like this when shipping:

ScrewPayPal.

And then you can’t go forward or override the popup until you use the “suggested” address. Notice that the only difference is that the customer entered “Hot Springs,” and the Post Office (xchxxxchhxttt paTOO!) demands “Hot Springs National Park.”

For the love of Mogg’s holy grandfather, don’t you think the customer knows his own address? Is the Post Office so stupid that even with a correct ZIP Code, they’ll be unable to deliver the parcel because their database happens to have a slightly different name for the locality?

It’s fine to provide this information, but they need a button that says “Use Address As Provided” so that the seller doesn’t have to take the time to go in and manually change the address.

The Old Wolf has ranted.

Old_Wolf_Curse

 

L.S./M.F.T (Like Strike Means a Facebook Touch-up)

In the last couple of days, two individuals have written about experiments that they conducted at Facebook.

Mat Honan, at Wired, wrote about what happened to his Facebook feed when he “liked” absolutely everything he saw for two days.

Facebook_like_thumb

At the same time, Elan Morgan was conducting a similar experiment… by not liking anything at all, and when she saw Honan’s post, was inspired to write about her experience.

Facebook

Before you go on, I recommend you read both articles in their entirety. There are some good thoughts in each, addressing more than the facebook issue. I will quote this, from Schmutzie’s blog post:

The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to not like things on Facebook. As I scrolled through updates, my finger instinctively gravitated towards the Like button on hundreds of posts and comments. It has become a gut-level, Pavlovian response. I saw updates I liked or wanted others to know I liked, and I found myself almost unconsciously clicking my approval.

The Like is the wordless nod of support in a loud room. It’s the easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos. I actually felt pangs of guilt over not liking some updates, as though the absence of my particular Like would translate as a disapproval or a withholding of affection. I felt as though my ability to communicate had been somehow hobbled. The Like function has saved me so much comment-typing over the years that I likely could have written a very quippy, War-and-Peace-length novel by now.

I have experienced much the same thing myself. Clicking that “like” button has become addictive, similar to the upvote/downvote arrows over at reddit. Both these articles made me think over the nature of my participation at Facebook.

A side note: my feed is full of other things, of course – lots of promotion from people running businesses, lots of politics, and – it goes without saying – lots of kittens and Pinterest shares. But, it is worth mentioning, no advertisements – I use FB Purity, which cleans up my Facebook feed in a way that makes it tolerable to use and much less noisy and chaotic. Social Fixer accomplishes the same thing. If you’re not using one of these, I highly recommend checking them out.

As for myself, I use Facebook to share things that are important to me; ideas, feelings, issues that I feel deserve attention, and to keep in touch with those people in my life who help me move forward. The “like” button has been a quick way of exchanging “strokes,” a concept introduced by transactional analysis and defined as “a unit of recognition.” As people, we need these strokes. Those who don’t get them on a regular basis end up feeling alone and isolated; even those who are introverted by nature and prefer solitude to social interaction need this kind of recognition and contrive to get it in other ways that serve them best, including self-stroking.¹

Mr. Honan noticed that by liking everything, he disovered that

“My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages.”

Contrariwise, Schmutzie (Elan Morgan’s alternate pseudonym) discovered that refusing to like anything and posting meaningful comments instead resulted in the exact opposite:

“Now that I am commenting more on Facebook and not clicking Like on anything at all, my feed has relaxed and become more conversational. It’s like all the shouty attention-getters were ushered out of the room as soon as I stopped incidentally asking for those kinds of updates by using the Like function. I have not seen a single repugnant image of animal torture, been exposed to much political wingnuttery, or continued to drown under the influx of über-cuteness that liking kitten posters can bring on. (I can’t quit the kittens.)”

Yeah, I enjoy the kittens, too. But what a contrast! By not using the “Like” button, one effectively short-circuits Facebooks ad-targeting algorithm and allows a more human environment to prevail.

I can’t tell you how much I like this concept… but I’m not going to click the button.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹That’s not what I meant and you know it. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Don’t send in the clowns… give them love.

The recent and tragic passing of Robin Williams has spawned a flurry of tributes and analyses, and many of these focus on the issue of mental health. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s unfortunate that it takes the death of a beloved actor to focus the public’s ephemeral attention on an ongoing problem. At the same time, it’s not like the issue has been unknown or has been being ignored all this time; my very first encounter with the issue of depression came from the classic poem:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
- Edwin Arlington Robinson

When I read this poem for the first time (probably around 9th grade, which would have been 1964) I thought, “How could someone so rich and powerful and enviable do that?” Then I lived with depression for 30 years. Not mine, but someone else’s, and I learned that this is not something that is tied to external circumstances, and it’s not just something you “get over.” No matter how hard some people work, no matter how much therapy, no matter how many meds, that blackness just doesn’t  go away. You can’t regrow a leg by thinking about it, you don’t make ALS disappear just because you want it to, and depression is just the same. And sometimes it just hurts too badly to keep going.

In 1967, Dave Berg wrote “The Lighter Side of the Mating Game” for MAD magazine. He had his finger on the pulse of the insecure comedian:

Dave Berg Georgie

 

A much darker, but no less accurate summation was created by Nicholas Gurewitch, the creator of the Perry Bible Fellowship:

Perry Bible Fellowship - We Need the Funny

 

In a recent ABC News article, Dr. Rami Kaminski, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University School of Medicine was quoted as saying, “The reason so many comedians are at risk for mental illness is because being funny is not the same thing as being happy.”  He also said he believes many comedians mine humor as a way to escape depression and anxiety.

Several articles and blogs which appeared pursuant to Williams’ death are worth reading:

The Death of Robin Williams, And What Suicide Isn’t – Elizabeth Hawksworth

Robin Williams’s death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish – Dean Burnett at The Guardian

David Wong, over at Cracked.com, wrote a savagely honest article about the relationship between comedy and internal suffering (he’s a humorist himself, and  speaks from experience, although this is obviously only one scenario, and doesn’t apply to all cases):

  1. At an early age, you start hating yourself. Often it’s because you were abused, or just grew up in a broken home, or were rejected socially, or maybe you were just weird or fat or … whatever. You’re not like the other kids, the other kids don’t seem to like you, and you can usually detect that by age 5 or so.
  2. At some point, usually at a very young age, you did something that got a laugh from the room. You made a joke or fell down or farted, and you realized for the first time that you could get a positive reaction that way. Not genuine love or affection, mind you, just a reaction — one that is a step up from hatred and a thousand steps up from invisibility. One you could control.
  3. You soon learned that being funny builds a perfect, impenetrable wall around you — a buffer that keeps anyone from getting too close and realizing how much you suck. The more you hate yourself, the stronger you need to make the barrier and the further you have to push people away. In other words, the better you have to be at comedy.
  4. In your formative years, you wind up creating a second, false you — a clown that can go out and represent you, outside the barrier. The clown is always joking, always “on,” always drawing all of the attention in order to prevent anyone from poking away at the barrier and finding the real person behind it. The clown is the life of the party, the classroom joker, the guy up on stage — as different from the “real” you as possible. Again, the goal is to create distance.

You do it because if people hate the clown, who cares? That’s not the real you. So you’re protected.

The full article is rather coarse so I don’t quote most of it here, but if you’re not offended by such things, you can visit the source.

For me, the takeaway from all of this is that much more needs to be done in the area of treating mental illness. When people get sick, they visit a doctor without hesitation. But let a person suffer from depression, and it’s usually hidden away in the closet and discussed in hushed whispers using euphemisms like “chemical imbalance.” Those who suffer usually manage to function in society, but are rarely free of judgment; most often heard from others who have no clue are things like “happiness is a choice, just snap out of it.” This and about 100 other platitudes, things that are never helpful to say to someone with depression, can be found at PsychCentral.

The other important point is that there is nothing that you can do for a friend or loved one who suffers from the blackness. Depression is still poorly understood, and there is no “cure.” The same source above provides a list of things that can be done, but this list – while accurate – is highly clinical and omits the two most important things you can do: Love and accept. People with depression need a community of friends who can provide support and acceptance without judgment. Even this won’t make the blackness go away, but it’s the best thing friends and family can offer.

In conclusion, two beautiful tributes to the life of Robin Williams:

Patch Adams: ‘Thank You for All You’ve Given This World Robin, Thank You My Friend’

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Big boys play with big toys

Saw these posted over at reddit the other day and since I live just down the road from where these big boys are used, I thought I’d share it. In fact, one of the men in my neighborhood drives one of these trucks. The comparison with the school bus next to it is pretty mind-bending.

PRkxHPn

Here’s an image of the Kenecott open-pit copper mine where these devices are in use; the inset shows one of the loaders and its relative size to the pit.

GhbhBVR

Next up is a time-lapse video showing the reconstruction of an access road that was wiped out during the massive slide of April 10, 2013 – in fact, four of these monster trucks were buried in the debris, but have since been recovered.

Of course, even these humonstrous machines are dwarfed by the Bagger 288, the largest movable machine ever created by man – built in 1978 in Germany by Krupp.

bagger 288

This beast was designed for coal mining, and it chews up everything – including the occasional stray bulldozer.

298574512_ecb3f7b06f_o

For more eye-popping images of this device, head over to Dark Roasted Blend.

“Honey from the bee-bee.”

When I was a kid in New York, living in the Germantown area of upper Lexington Avenue, we had a lot of wonderful stores in the neighborhood. There was a German deli across the street, Jewish delicatessens, and many others. On occasion my mother would bring home a little wooden box filled with comb honey:

Сотовый_мёд

… and that’s what we called it, because I was around six or so, and it seemed an apt description. Not from the store, not in a bottle, but right from the beehive. And what a treat it was.

I haven’t had it for decades, and recently I started looking. Places like Whole Foods and Sprouts claim to carry it at certain times of the year, but I’ve never seen it there. So I started looking online. You can find it, but by the time you add shipping prices, it becomes too extravagant an indulgence.

Enter the local farmer’s market:

Honey

Got some today, along with some other yummy breads and berries and vegetables and a tamale for lunch and mini-doughnuts fried right in front of us in the most wonderful automatic doughnut maker that made me think of Homer Price and his grand adventures, courtesy of Robert McCluskey:

lil-orbits-ss1200-automatic-mini-donut-machine

4790320193_65758c8e4a_z

 

The honey was just as good as I always remembered it, and the wax still got stuck in my teeth. Hooray for farmer’s markets!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Drool

Drool

There! Are! NINE! Planets!

Nine Planets Thumb

Maybe.

See, for the longest time, I’ve been fascinated by space, and the stars, and astronomy. When I was a kid in the 1950s I’d go from New York City where I lived to visit one of my uncles in the country, and he had an interesting and eclectic library, which things like CS Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet or The World of Å by A.E. van Vogt. He also had this book:

zim stars

which I would spend hours and hours perusing, right around the same time Alfred Bester was publishing the exploits of Gully Foyle. In my own mind, the stars were my destination.

And of course, there were Nine Planets. Nine. This was cemented into my mind when, during the same epoch, I read Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel. Beyond being a delightful space opera, it was full of hard science, too. Kip Russell was a genius who thought higher math was as addictive as peanuts, and had all sorts of astronomical data tucked away in his mind which helped him figure out where his evil worm-faced kidnappers were taking him and his little companion, Peewee.

“Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no protest.” Could you forget that after saying it a few times? Okay, lay it out so:

Mother Mercury $.39
Very Venus $.72
Thoughtfully Terra $1.00
Made Mars $1.50
A Asteroids Assorted prices,
unimportant
Jelly Jupiter $5.20
Sandwich Saturn $9.50
Under Uranus $19.00
No Neptune $30.00
Protest Pluto $39.50

The “prices” are distances from the sun in astronomical units. An A.U. is the mean distance of Earth from Sun, 93,000,000 miles. It is easier to remember one figure that everyone knows and a lot of little figures than it is to remember figures in millions or billions. I use dollar signs because a figure has more flavor if I think of it as money – which Dad considers deplorable. Some way you must remember them, or you don’t know your own neighborhood. (Heinlein, Robert A., Have Space Suit, Will Travel).

And no, I could never forget it either. There were nine planets. Nine. And the mnemonic was seared into my consciousness forever. When Pluto was demoted from planetary status to “dwarf planet,” I was devastated. I refused to give in. No. Still a planet, always a planet. Apparently, others felt the same way I did, and for similar reasons:

I really wasn’t too concerned about Pluto’s demotion from being a planet. It was a non scientific discussion about a silly serious definition.

Well, at least that was until they decided to TAKE AWAY PLUTO’S NAME. WTF? So, please Mr It’s-Not-A-Planet-Just-A-No-Name-Dwarf Astronomer, what am I supposed to use for my mnemonic now? Huh?

I learned “Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no protest” as a teenager reading Robert Heinlein. And now? “Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no 134340” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

[Update: Thanks Dan]
Pluto may have lost it’s planetary status, but it GOT A NEW NUMBER! It went from merely 9 to a rocking 134340! Wow, what a raise. I am however bummed that my favorite memonic, “Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no protest” learned as a teenager reading Robert Heinlein, no longer works.

Perhaps “Mother very thoughtfully made a cherry jelly sandwich under no protest. Excellent!”  (Hmmm, still doesn’t ring well.) Anyway I still stand to-

Sure tell me Pluto it isn’t a planet, but stop MESSING AROUND WITH MY CHILDHOOD! (From Eclectics Anonymous)

And that’s the crux of my objection: don’t screw around with what I learned as a child. If nothing else, Pluto should have been grandfathered in, because despite its true status as a captured Kuiper Belt object (as clearly shown by its off-kilter orbit and the identification of countless other trans-Neptunian objects), it was treated as a planet since it was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh.

Sadly, science moves on. As Neil de Grasse Tyson has said, the universe is under no obligation to make sense to us – it’s just out there, waiting to be discovered. In much the same way as they took away my beloved Brontosaurus, we learn new things every day. Now, as New Horizons approaches Pluto for a scheduled 2015 rendezvous, my excitement to see our last little solar system outlier (at least, that’s the way it was in the 50s) knows no bounds.

xaqbwrmxwyqtn68mqecd

“The [above] animation of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was created using a series of images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft as it continues its long journey to the distant planetoid. Taken from a distance of 422-429 million km, the images are not for scientific study, but for optical navigation between worlds. (From i09)

Those pictures are going to get a lot clearer and more wonderful as New Horizons approaches, if the results from Cassini and other planetary probes are any indiation. But based on what I’m seeing there, it may turn out that Pluto and Charon are not really planets at all, but nothing more than space junk, garbage that looks more like comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. And if that ends up being the case, I’ll have to throw my visceral but irrational defense of Pluto’s planetary status onto the trash heap of disproven theories, as sad as it may be.

Our Solar System is a lot bigger now than it used to be. No one ever made mention of the Kuiper Belt or the Oort cloud. It was just us, although some scientists even back then were looking for the mysterious “Planet X” which would help to explain certain orbital anomalies.

splash-planets-600x312

Image: NASA’s Solar System Exploration. Click through for the full interactive graphic, along with a lot of other wonderful information.

Some other really good stuff about space and stars and especially planets is found at Starts with a Bang!

In the end, better minds than mine have come to terms with advancing knowledge. A quote at Wikipedia’s article about Clyde Tombaugh is particularly comforting:

Tombaugh’s widow Patricia stated after the IAU’s decision that while Clyde may have been disappointed with the change since he had resisted attempts to remove Pluto’s planetary status in his lifetime, he would have accepted the decision now if he were alive. She noted that he “was a scientist. He would understand they had a real problem when they start finding several of these things flying around the place.”Hal Levison offered this perspective on Tombaugh’s place in history: “Clyde Tombaugh discovered the Kuiper Belt. That’s a helluva lot more interesting than the ninth planet.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Old_Wolf_Cry