Monday, April 26, 2010

Babs' First Brush with Technology

In 1980, I was hired as a legal secretary. My new boss didn't care about my lack of qualifications, since he was just getting back to work after having been shot in the face by a hunting buddy. Cheney didn't do it, but isn't it weird that this happens to Republican lawyers, like, a lot?

In my new job, I had total dominion over three technological breakthroughs: a beige two-line phone with one of those cushiony ergonomic blocks that were supposed to prevent neck pain, (and did, because they made resting the phone between your shoulder and ear virtually impossible); a powder blue IBM Selectric II, the most exciting typewriter ever invented, (though slightly louder than a good vibrator); and a Mr. Coffee, the greatest miracle of all.

It wasn't long before the phrase “three onion skin copies, please” started to paralyze me with fear.

Here's how it went: a sheet of legal paper, a sheet of carbon paper, a sheet of onion skin paper, another sheet of carbon, a sheet of onion skin, a sheet of carbon, and a sheet of onion skin, all crammed into the Selectric II. This stack was thick enough to separate the carriage from whatever mechanism held it in place. Sheets slipped and slid. I swore a lot.

But the Selectric II was self-correcting! Whoa! You pushed a button marked “x” and the carriage began to type backwards through a white tape instead of a black one, as you simply retraced the steps of your error. Whoa! I changed my white correcting tape much more often than my black typing tape.

Sadly, the Selectric II did not have a mechanism for correcting onion skins and each correction only intensified the mistake on the carbon copy. If you were lucky, you had erasable onion skins. Then you cranked the pages out far enough to reach the error, erased it on all three copies, and cranked the pages back in again, hoping you'd land back in that tiny square millimeter where you began. If you didn't have erasable onion skins, you had to resort to white-out. Same procedure, only instead of erasing the errors on the carbon, you applied the white out and blew patiently on each copy until it had dried before whiting out the next one. You can't do it often—once, maybe twice, per sheet. White-out on onion skin is only slightly less noticeable than duct tape on a run in your pantyhose.

Now imagine this procedure every time you make a mistake, only you have an extremely nervous client sitting beside you who is due in court and desperately needs the pages in your Selectric II in order to avoid some sort of prison sentence. He looked dangerous when he came in, but now it looks like he might end up serving several sentences simultaneously. Your typing accuracy does not increase. You are covered with eraser gunk, carbon smudges, and self-loathing.

I was a such a disaster at this job that when the secretary next door mentioned a new breakthrough called a mag card, it struck even more terror in my soul. I guess I thought technology could possibly get worse than the IBM Selectric II.

My boss didn't have the heart to fire me. But in the middle of a highly controversial case, someone threw a molotov cocktail in his office window, which destroyed his files, but gave him the excuse he needed to let me go. I wonder if he was really that desperate for one...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Babs' Handy Guide to Internet Acronyms or BHGTIA

The internet is a culture all its own and when you enter it, you would do well to have an acronym translator. The AAAAA (American Association Against Acronym Abuse) is doing its best to discourage the ubiquitous acronym through its well-funded program, JSNTA. PWCSA (People Who Can't Stand Acronyms) are also taking donations, fearing that one day acronyms will replace words altogether. After all, why go to the trouble of uttering entire sentences full of words when everyone knows what you're talking about when you say OMGROTFLMAO?

With this handy guide, you'll get all you need to know about navigating the internet with ease and savvy. Let's start with the most common acronyms first.

LOL: Lost, Outcast, Lonely. LOL is a cry for help. When someone claims to be LOL they are usually lying, but just to make sure, you should ask them if they are okay.

BFF: Blasted Foul Fiend. User does not care for you.

FWIW: Frankly We're Infinitely Wise: Only the most arrogant and self-assured internet users will employ this acronym. Don't believe anything that begins with this egomaniacal phraseology.

TTYL: TeeTotalers, You Lose. This acronym is always followed by dead silence, presumably because its user has passed out cold. So who really loses, I ask?

WTF: Wow, That's Fantastic! This will often be used in the comments section of political blogs when you have just made a particularly astute statement.

FTW: Failure To Wean. This makes reference to men who are still afraid of their mothers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Open Link in New Tab, or: How It Took Me Two Hours to Read a Two Word Blog Post

I used to hate clicking on links because they took me further and further from where I began, and sometimes the internet gremlins ate all the breadcrumbs I needed to find my way back. Then I met Open Link in New Tab. On a PC, right click on the link for the option, or with Mac, Ctrl + click. The other day I took O.L.I.N.T. out for a test spin.

9:37am: It started with the shortest post ever: Here. Go ahead and OLINT, just this once, and you'll see two tabs up top, below your toolbar. You can close the right-most one by clicking the x on the tab, or open up a blank page by clicking the plus sign. You can have lots of pages open at once, and get to them by clicking on the tabs. Are you back? Now, as for the post itself: Maybe you know who Kaus and Wolcott are but I don't, and I am not good at knowing what I don't know. I excel at not knowing what I don't know; I'm fine with the vast depth and breadth of my ignorant ignorance. But knowing what I don't know is unendurable and must be remedied. So dammit, I'm finding out why Wolcott can't resist Kaus.

9:37:10am: Wolcott's at Vanity Fair, where he gives Kaus an amusingly hard time, and subjects me to three more links, one of which has me wasting away again. He also sent me to Ezra Klein's tweet, and escorted me into the mouth of The Daily Beast. Wolcott makes an obscure reference to Jukt Electronics that I couldn't let slide, and calls Ezra Klein "the Zac Efron of blogging." I found video of Efron in his high school musical, and boy, his school must have had a lot of bake sales to pull that production off.

10:12am: Lloyd Grove, The Daily Beast writer, is merciful with links and obscure references. He sends me to Kaus's campaign website. and his book, The End of Equality, on Amazon, where there are 5 reviews, mostly negative, and only two copies left in stock! Order now! Did Amazon only stock 7 copies of The End of Equality? What I have learned so far is that Kaus is primarying Barbara Boxer, and that he has a very large head, literally and metaphorically.

10:33: Here's what Lloyd's Daily Beast piece has left me with, tabwise: Gawker, The Sacramento Bee, and a column from The New York Times Magazine. I take a peek at Gawker.

10:33:05: Gawker doesn't care for Kaus much either. It sends me to a place called bloggingheads where two bloggers, Kaus and Robert Wright, are having a lengthy video-talk called a diavlog, which sounds evil, and probably should be called a blovialog anyway. Kaus is trying to convince Wright that Ann Coulter is not an idiot. This is like arguing about whether Kaus' head is the size and shape of a six month old baby, but they are taking it seriously. Kaus says that once you get to know her...and Wright interrupts: “What, she quits saying stupid things?” This is fun.

10:53: The Gawker article only has 18 comments, so I yield to temptation and read them. A feisty but unproductive debate, where Kaus defenders are accused of being from Alabama. Not nice. They should be accused of being from The Planet of the Big-heads. I move on, resisting the "You might also like..." articles, one of which is about the romantic dinners Bill Clinton and Martha Stewart have been having. (Billartha? Marble?)

11:09am: Gawker linked me to Kaus's blog on Slate but I don't feel the need to read the guy I'm reading about. Kaus has been blogging since 1947 and he definitely has the hang of it; short posts covering a lot of ground, unlike some that go on and on and on...

11:23am: I get a little thrill when I realize that one of my new tabs acquired from Gawker is an Andrew Sullivan post from three years ago, taking me back to the blog where I started. Here, Sullivan quotes from an old Kaus article in which Kaus laments that his favorite bar was forced to take down a sign that said “Fagots stay out.” Kaus doesn't like unions or immigrants, but bigotry's cool with him. Oh, and Kaus takes a swipe at Wolcott in this article! I guess they've been complaining about each other for a few years now.

11:26am: I'm closing tabs on Ezra and Zac, now that I understand the analogy. Like Zac, Ezra is young, cute, telegenic, and probably can't sing either. Ezra's tweet was a 140 character snark about how Kaus snarked at him in the NY Times.

11:26:10am: The Sacramento Bee article contains seven links, demoralizing me. Most are easy: just taking you to pages on their site that reference the people in the article: Barbara Boxer, Mickey Kaus, the Democratic Party, and Al Franken. I'm okay with closing those right back up like a surgeon who's been met with something that he can do nothing about. But I am now saddled with a Huffington Post article by Kaus himself, announcing his candidacy, with 287 comments. Also something called The Wrap on CalBuzz and the New York Times article that's been referenced by everything so far, and will, I promise, be the end of my linking road.

11:40am The answer to the burning question posed by Wolcott: What did Kaus say in the New York Times to annoy Ezra? He said: “Ezra Klein gets under my skin.” This got under Ezra Klein's skin.

11:42am The last question in the NY Times article has to do with the image of pajama clad bloggers. I look down at myself. I better get dressed.

11:45am I close up all tabs except for Andrew Sullivan's, my starting point. Since I've been gone, he's posted 5 more things I'm dying to read.

With this experiment, I learned two things: 1)Open Link In New Tab is the greatest thing ever invented if you never have to be anywhere again in your life. And 2) Political bloggers are pre-teen girls.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Finding Your People

I heard through the grapetubes that people are having trouble commenting here. This is like inviting everyone over for coffee and cookies, then binding and gagging them and doing your schtick without so much as asking them how they are. Jeepers, sorry about that! Now you should at least be able to comment as Anonymous if you can't sign into Google.

Remember the days when we roamed in tribes, depending on each other for our survival, sharing in the hunt, sitting around the fire listening to stories, singing songs, dancing and drumming? No? Too bad you missed it. Good times.

For some of us these days, the internet is as close as we can get to a “these are my people” feeling. My old friends (and I don't mean old friends, I mean old friends) divulged yesterday that they aren't quite sure what a blog is or how to find one. Some of you may be here only because you got an email with the four most dreaded words in the English Language: “I've started a blog.” Followed by a link. Followed by a subtle sense of shame when next you see me because you have not clicked and read.

If you're not familiar with Blogworld, it can be pretty overwhelming. There are a lot of souls out there just blah-blah-blogging away, and God bless them all, but God does not read them all, I assure you, and neither should you. Instead, you will choose one or two blogs that feel like home. When you read the comments, you will find a myriad of like-minded, clever, witty souls that you never imagined existed, at least not if you live in rural Michigan. It's really quite lovely, and very much like finding your tribe and running with it. You don't know what your tribal members look like, but that's probably a plus: you can imagine they are all very dreamy and well-chiseled. Sometimes members of other tribes stop in just to throw rocks and sticks at the group. They don't believe in evolution and are attempting to prove their theory. They're best ignored, but there's nothing like having your tribe rally around and form a protective wall against those kind of blog-floggers. They need to go back to where they belong.

If you want to find “your people,” run a search on something you're intensely curious about or that really matters to you. I like Andrew Sullivan, who doesn't allow for comments but does post readers' letters when they are informed, intelligent, or provide a unique point of view. Checking in with him daily helps me feel like I know what's going on in the world and on the intertubes and makes me a much better conversationalist with 3D people. Sullivan covers stories that the mainstream media simply will not touch, and they are usually the ones that matter most. Palingates is a blog that, on its surface, is about exposing the many "gates" of a certain unbalanced celebrity. Join the discussion, though, and you'll find it's a support group for people who are recovering from the trauma of being related to a narcissist.

I hope this inspires you to join an online discussion, and to share your favorites in comments below. And I hope that opening the comments up to anonymous users won't subject us to neanderthal rock-throwers.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Social Media: the Point?

A few short weeks ago, people stopped telling me I had to get on Facebook, thank God. Every time a new piece of social media is introduced, I put a curse on it in hopes that it won't take off and I will never have to learn how to use it. It turns out that if you wait long enough, the medium gets stale and no one is impressed by it anymore or is impressed with you for being on it. I figure if I hold out long enough, I will start to appear cool by not using all that stale old social media.

Babs, my alter-ego, is obsessed with social media, and you can see what she's thinking, feeling, eating and excreting by clicking something—I'm not sure what—in the sidebar. As soon as she figures out how to put her networking info in the sidebar. And, also, get some networking info.

I, on the other hand, am virtually invisible on the web. I think it's best that way. After all, I live in an area much like the setting of In Cold Blood, geographically and culturally, and wouldn't want to say anything that might piss a crazy person off, especially since he's probably living in that creepy farmhouse the next square mile over (ie, my next-door-neighbor). That's why I'm making Babs limit her blog content to tech stuff. We're not scared of those Apple-y Googly anything-that-starts-with i- worshiping geeks. Bring it.

There's something nerve-wracking, though, about having pictures, thoughts, intimate details of my life up in various places on the web. I was too much of an asshole in my day, and would prefer to slip off into oblivion, and not be reminded of my assholitude by ex-lovers, ex-friends and my kids. Besides, if you're my age, you really don't want to go back there and see how all those people you couldn't be bothered to stay in touch with turned out. Hint: they turned out to be sociopaths. You have enough of those in your life already. And you certainly don't need any sociopaths who are richer, more successful, and have better looking grandchildren.

It's different if you're young. You don't know you're an asshole, so the idea of letting the world see who you are is not mortifying. Yet.

But if you long to be a part of the social media world, if you are shut-in and isolated and begging wrong numbers to stay on the line and chat for a little while—asking what number they were trying to call, making a lame joke about how they missed it by that much, grilling them on their favorite social media sites—then you might benefit from being on a few social media sites.

Tip #1: Forget about myspace. It died. I don't know why or how; it seemed like just a few short years ago all the cool people loved myspace and hated Facebook and then: Facebook crushed myspace. Something will come along to crush Facebook eventually, we hope, but not soon enough, because Facebook was born evil and will die evil, using, chewing, and spitting out all who were trusting and naïve enough to step into its dark, voracious hellhole.

Tip #2: Start a Facebook page.

Tip #3: Begin tweeting. You do this by opening up a Twitter Account. Then, you come up with hourly quotable words of wisdom, hilarity, or groundbreaking news such as the cute thing one of your nine cats just did. You can link to photos of the cat doing the cute thing, complete with adorable illiterate capshun, and it will make its way to lolcats and bring your cat eternal infamy, which you will find deeply satisfying since your kids are all underachievers and it looks like the grandchildren will be too.Y

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What is an i-Pad and why do I need one?

All week, it's been i-Pad i-Pad i-Pad all over the web, and since menopause I really don't need them much any more unless I'm at a really funny movie or I have a bad cough, so I haven't been paying much attention. Then I realized I was thinking of she-pads, followed by the product spin-off wee-pads—seems as soon as you dry up in one place you spring a leak somewhere else, and Proctor and Gamble's ingenious marketing department had the gamut covered. This left me wondering what an i-Pad was. Something you wear for runny eyes? Is that what's next in my future?

No. The i-Pad is a device that everyone on the interweb is telling me I do not want or need, except for the ones who are saying I can't live without it. The tech geeks hate it because it doesn't support Flash, but who, may I ask, is Flash and why can't he get a job and support himself, anyway? Flash, it turns out, is this software that everyone hates but needs in order to play most of the videos you find online. So since your new i-Pad sent Flash off to fend for itself, there's quite a bit on the tubes that you won't be able to watch.

Another thing the techies seem to hate is that this Apple guy, a Mr. Steve Jobs—who certainly seems like a nice enough young man, and even his name sounds productive—is accused of attempting to corner the market on the purchasing of something called apps. Often qualified by the word killer. Killer apps. I personally would not want to be anywhere near any killer apps, which sounds like a very scary part of a Catholic basilica. It is not.

Killer apps are what make your i-Pad do all the cool things it will do for you: play games like Scrabble with faraway strangers, watch movies, check your email and answer it. If you get lost, or you just want to find something, there's an app that will show you where you are and where the nearest Arby's is. You carry it around in your purse, I guess, it's too big for a pocket, but it only weighs one and a half pounds. If you are like my husband Wally, it will be worth the $500 never to have to ask for directions again, at least until you lose it. Wally loses things.

i-Pads don't do well in the sun, but neither do I. You can't take it apart, which seems like a good thing. But you have to pay someone to change the battery for you. Not a problem if you're in my age group. The battery will surely outlive you. There would be a monthly internet fee if you wanted to use it outside the reach of a wireless signal.

I would not buy one of these instruments for Wally, who would only use it for solitaire and then lose it, just before leaving it in the sun, trying to take it apart, killing the battery and complaining about the monthly fee. I wouldn't buy one for any of my kids, either, because it's too obvious a cool gadget, so obviously cool that it's uncool and makes you look like the kind of jerk who would fall for something just because it is cool when it's not (even though it is).

Now, I am the perfect customer. I wear Rockports; cool is simply out of reach. The i-Pad doesn't intrude on you the way a phone does, but it travels better than a laptop, and it does all the things I need a computer for: browsing, learning, keeping in touch, seeing what the culinarily homicidal Paula Deen is recommending I make for dinner. And I can set the i-Pad on my counter and follow her satanic instructions with ease.

The i-Pad is designed for content consumers. I'm always content when I'm consuming, so I think it would do much to ensure continued contentedness. They don't mean happy-content, though. They are talking about CON-tent, stuff, words, games, music, film, it's all called CON-tent now, and I consume it. With my new i-Pad, I can carry on late at night while Wally's trying to sleep and not listen to him complain about the light from my laptop or the clacking of my keyboard. (The i-Pad has a touchscreen keyboard which is probably a drag, but good for silent content-creation.) You can't really snuggle up with a laptop the way I imagine you can with one of these things, even if you just want to use it to read a book you've downloaded from Steve Jobs' book-downloading monolopological Company Store.

Call me a sucker, but count me in. I know: Aristotle said that happiness only comes from hard work, not amusement or distraction, but a little amusement or distraction never...I'm sorry, what was I talking about?