Tag: Language

Where Will the PC Go? -- Part 1: Identifying the Problem

The other day, Ars Technica posted an article called Cringe-worthy “PC Does What?” campaign wants you to upgrade, about a new ad campaign the PC industry is pushing to try and convince users to buy new computers.

The PC industry is in trouble. It's built around a pattern of regular upgrades that customers just aren't buying anymore. And it's trying whatever it can to stop the bleeding.

On the other hand, rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. In the comments thread on the Ars article, someone named erikbc said:

Well, if anyone believes PC is dead they need to get their head checked.
And understand some numbers:


A user named has responded:

…said every horse-and-buggy salesman in 1900 ever.

Which, okay, doesn't actually make a whole lot of sense. (In fact I am fairly confident that very few horse-and-buggy salesmen in 1900 ever said "If anyone believes PC is dead they need to get their head checked" and then linked to Wikipedia.) But, like many shitty analogies do, it got me thinking about why it was a shitty analogy.

Mainly, I don't think the PC will go away to the extent that horse-drawn carriages have. I think it's possible that tablets could completely replace desktop and laptop computers, but I don't think that can happen until they effectively duplicate the functionality of PC's -- in effect not actually replacing PC's but becoming them.

General Case: Typical End Users

While it's easy to point to the rise of the smartphone as the reason for declining PC sales, it's only one of the reasons. There's another one: the last processor most end users will ever need was released in 2006.

A typical end user only needs a few things in a PC: a web browser, an office suite, music, and videos. (And those last three are, increasingly, integrated into the first one; I'll circle back to that in a later post.)

In 2006, Intel released the Core 2 Duo, which, paired with even a low-end onboard graphics chip, could handle HD video and drive two 1920x1080 monitors. And it's 64-bit, so it can handle more than the 3GB of RAM that 32-bit processors max out at.

There have been plenty more, and plenty better, processors in the 9 years since. But they're not better for people who only use their computer for browsing, Office, listening to music, and watching videos. The Core 2 Duo was good enough for them.

There are people who greatly benefit from newer and better processors -- gamers and people who produce media rather than just consuming it. But they're special cases; I'll get to them later. For the average user, the difference between a Core 2 Duo and a Core i7 isn't even noticeable.

The computer industry grew up in the 1990's around the expectation that people would upgrade their computer every few years to handle new software. And people just don't do that anymore. They buy a new PC when the old one quits working; not before.

But, at least at this point, they still need a PC. People may be buying more phones than PC's, but, at least in America, a phone is not a replacement for a PC.

Problem 1: Screen Keyboards

Screen keyboards are a pain in the ass.

They're fine for short communication -- text messages and tweets -- but they're just too slow and imprecise for long-form writing. (I thought of writing this post entirely on a screen keyboard -- like last week's handwritten post -- but I think that would make me want to gouge my eyes out.)

There are still plenty of requirements for longform writing in day-to-day life -- reports for school and reports for work, for starters. And that's even in professions where you don't have to write for a living, never mind ones where you do. People who write articles, and especially people who write books, are best served with a keyboard to type on.

And maybe that won't always be the case. Maybe kids growing up with screen keyboards aren't learning to type on traditional keyboards; maybe they're faster with screen keyboards than they are with hardware ones. Maybe, within a generation, we will see essays, reports, articles, even books, all written with screen keyboards. I suspect that if we do, they'll look a whole lot different than they do today.

Or maybe screen keyboards will get better. Maybe predictions and autocorrect will improve. Maybe a faster paradigm than qwerty + swipe will catch on. There's a lot that can happen in this space.

Or maybe we won't be using keyboards at all.

Problem 2: Text-to-Speech

Speech recognition software has grown by leaps and bounds. Terry Pratchett used Dragon Dictate and TalkingPoint to write his last few novels.

But being good enough for a first draft, for a user who is no longer physically capable of using a keyboard, isn't the same thing as being able to recognize a full range of standard and nonstandard grammars and sentence structures, pick correct homonyms, and understand slang and regional dialects. (Pratchett liked to tell the story of how he had to train his text-to-speech software to recognize the word "arsehole".)

Text-to-speech software might be good enough for simple, clear documents, such as manuals, lists, daily work logs, AP-style newsbriefs, and technical writing (provided you're writing on a subject that doesn't have a lot of jargon words that don't appear in a simple dictionary). But for writing that's meant to convey personality -- editorials, reviews, fiction, even this blog post -- text-to-speech algorithms have a long way to go.

So, for now at least, a good old hardware keyboard remains the best way to input large blocks of text into a computer. In my next post, I'll examine why a dedicated PC is still the best thing to connect to that keyboard, and how phone and tablet OS's are (or aren't) working to bridge that gap.

Stuff On Screens


This blog post is handwritten.  Instead of alt text, the complete text is transcribed in the Typed tab.

Yesterday I ran across two 2013 articles about books, literacy, and libraries in the Guardian, one by Neil Gaiman and the other by Susan Cooper. The Gaiman one is excellent, but I was disappointed by Cooper's, partly because it digresses substantially from its point, but mostly because of a couple of paragraphs I can't stop thinking about. She starts off quoting a talk she gave in 1990:

"We – teachers, librarians, parents, authors – have a responsibility for the imagination of the child. I don't mean we have to educate it – you can't do that, any more than you can teach a butterfly how to fly. But you can help the imagination to develop properly, and to survive things that may threaten it: like the over-use of computers and everything I classify as SOS, Stuff on Screens. I do realize that the Age of the Screen has now replaced the Age of the Page. But on all those screens there are words, and in order to linger in the mind, words still require pages. We are in grave danger of forgetting the importance of the book."

All that was 23 years ago and it's all still true. The screens have just grown smaller, and multiplied. In America, there are already a few digital schools, which have no books, not even in the library. And in schools across America, so many children now work on laptops or tablet computers that cursive handwriting is no longer being taught. Maybe that's also happening here. I suppose that's not the end of the world; lots of authors write their first drafts on a computer, though I'm certainly not one of them. But there's something emblematic about handwriting, with its direct organic link between the imagining brain and the writing fingers. Words aren't damaged by technology. But what about the imagination?

I am not a luddite. I've written screenplays for small and large screens. I love my computer. But as you can tell, this last author of the weekend is offering an unashamed plea for words on pages, for the small private world of a child curled up with a book, his or her imagination in direct communication with the imagination of the person who wrote the words on the page.

I have a great deal of respect for Ms. Cooper. The Dark is Rising Sequence meant a lot to me when I was a kid. And I absolutely agree with her premise that books and libraries are vital and that we must continue to treasure, support, and protect them, even in an increasingly digital world.

But her handwringing about Kids Today and their Screens just strikes me as a bunch of Old Person Nonsense.

At least she acknowledges that the decline of cursive is no big deal.

I heard my aunt bemoan the lack of cursive education in schools recently. My response was, "What the hell do kids need to know cursive for?" It's harder to read than print, it's (at least for me) harder and slower to write than print, and in the twenty-first century it's about as essential a communication skill as Latin. It may be an interesting subject to study, but it's hardly a necessary one.

In sixth grade, I had two teachers who wouldn't let us submit typed papers. Everything had to be written in ink, in cursive. One of them even had the gall to justify this restriction by saying "This is how adults communicate."

Well, it's twenty-one years later, and you know what? I can't think of a single time in my adult life that I've ever written anything in cursive. I don't even sign my name in cursive.

You know what I, as an adult, do use to communicate, each and every single day of my life? A goddamn computer.

I'm a Millennial. At least, I think I am; nobody seems to agree on just what the fuck a Millennial is, exactly. But consensus seems to be that I'm on the older end of the Millennial Generation, and I certainly seem to fit a lot of the generalizations people make about Millennials.

I've been online since I was six years old (though I didn't have a smartphone until I was almost 30); I grew up with Stuff on Screens.

And that means I read a lot.

As far as Stuff on Screens and literacy, I'm inclined to agree with Randall Munroe:

XKCD Writing Skills strip

I'd like to find a corpus of writing from children in a non-self-selected sample (e.g. handwritten letters to the president from everyone in the same teacher's 7th grade class every year)--and score the kids today versus the kids 20 years ago on various objective measures of writing quality. I've heard the idea that exposure to all this amateur peer practice is hurting us, but I'd bet on the generation that conducts the bulk of their social lives via the written word over the generation that occasionally wrote book reports and letters to grandma once a year, any day.

Millennials read all the time, and we write all the time. And that promotes the hell out of literacy, no matter how goddamn annoying it is to see somebody spell the word "you" with only one letter.

Per Cooper's contention that people experience a closer kind of bond with words on paper than words on screens, research indicates that this distinction is decreasing as more and more people become accustomed to screens. Via Scientific American:

Since at least the 1980s researchers in many different fields—including psychology, computer engineering, and library and information science—have investigated such questions in more than one hundred published studies. The matter is by no means settled. Before 1992 most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens. And recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when reading intensively—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common. In the U.S., e-books currently make up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales.

Now, there are ways in which physical books are superior to digital ones. One is DRM. DRM is a blight; it is a threat to libraries, to academia, to preservation, and to the very concept of ownership.

But it's also optional. Its not an inherent part of ebooks; it's bullshit added to them by assholes. And I suspect that, within a generation, it will be gone, just as music DRM has been gone for about a decade now.

There's one more case where paper books are superior to digital ones: pictures. I've already spoken at length about comic books shrunk to fit a 10" screen, as well as the color problems that can arise when they're not printed on the same paper stock they were designed for. The same goes for picture books, art books, photo books; for magazines whose layouts are designed for the printed page. When you put these things on a small screen, you do lose something tangible (and if you put them on a large screen, you lose portability).

On the other hand, I've currently got some 173 books and 362 comics on a 10" rectangle that fits in my backpack, and that is amazing.

People carry libraries in their pockets now. That's not a threat to literacy, it's a boon -- so long as voters and politicians understand that these portable libraries are not meant to replace the traditional kind, but to supplement them.

But for people who love books -- at least, people of my generation who love books -- it's not an either-or question. It's not "Should I read paper books, or digital ones?" It's "Holy shit, look at all the books I have access to, and all the different ways I can read them!"

The first iPhone was released in 2007. It's too early to gauge what long-term effects, nationally or internationally, the smartphone revolution will have on literacy and reading habits.

But I'm more inclined to agree with Munroe than Cooper: a generation that's reading and writing all the time is going to be better at reading and writing than one that isn't. Even if you think they're doing it wrong.

An angry hat tip to Scott Sharkey, who used to handwrite blog posts, which gave me the utterly terrible idea for this time-consuming pain-in-the-ass of a post. (Granted, I'm pretty sure he had the good sense never to do it with a six-page essay with working links.)

Also, the part where I printed an image and then re-scanned it is kind of like something this one angry lady on a My Little Pony fan site did once.

(And yes, I'm aware that I forgot to use blue pencil for the Scientific American link. I am not going back and redoing it. That's the thing about writing stuff out on paper: it's kinda tough to add formatting to something after you've already written it.)

E-Mails and Passwords

So the other day I decided it was past time to reset all my passwords.

I'm pretty good about password hygiene. I've been using a password locker for years, with a unique, randomly-generated* password for every account I use. But I'll admit that, like most of us, I don't do as good a job of password rotation as I might. That's probably because I've managed to amass over 150 different accounts across different sites, and resetting 150 different passwords is a giant pain in the ass.

(I'm thinking that, from here on in, I should pick a subset of passwords to reset every month, so I never wind up having to reset all 150 at once again. It would also help me to clear out the cruft and not keep logins for sites that no longer exist, or which I'm never going to use again, or where I can't even find the damn login page anymore.)

There was one more reason I decided now was a good time to do a mass update: I've got two E-Mail addresses that have turned into spam holes. As I've mentioned previously, I'm currently looking for work and getting inundated with job spam; unfortunately I went and put my primary E-Mail address at the top of my resume, which in hindsight was a mistake. Never post your personal E-Mail in any public place; always use a throwaway.

Which I do, most of the time -- and that's created a second problem: I've been signing up for websites with the same E-Mail address for 15 years, and also used to use it in my whois information. (I've since switched to dedicated E-Mail addresses that I use only for domain registration.) So now, that E-Mail has turned into a huge spam hole; it's currently got over 500 messages in its Junk folder, and that's with a filter that deletes anything that's been in there longer than a week. My spam filters are well-trained, but unfortunately they only run on the client side, not the server side, so any time Thunderbird isn't running on my desktop, my spam doesn't get filtered. (If I'm out of the house, I can tell if the network's gone down, because I start getting a bunch of spam in my inbox on my phone.)

So now I've gone and created two new E-Mail addresses: one that's just for E-Mails about jobs, and another as my new all-purpose signing-up-for-things address.

My hope is that the companies hammering my primary E-Mail address with job notifications will eventually switch to the new, jobs-only E-Mail address, and I'll get my personal E-Mail address back to normal. And that I can quit using the Spam Hole address entirely and switch all my accounts over to the new address. Which hopefully shouldn't get as spam-filled as the old one since I haven't published it in a publicly-accessible place like whois.

Anyway, some things to take into account with E-Mail and passwords:

  • Don't use your personal E-Mail address for anything but personal communication. Don't give it to anyone you don't know.
  • Keep at least one secondary E-Mail address that you can abandon if it gets compromised or filled up with spam. It's not necessarily a bad idea to have several -- in my case, I've got one for accounts at various sites, several that I use as contacts for web domains, and one that's just for communication about jobs.
  • Use a password locker. 1Password, Keepass, and Lastpass are all pretty highly-regarded, but they're just three of the many available options.
  • Remember all the different devices you'll be using these passwords on.
    • I'm using a Linux desktop, an OSX desktop, a Windows desktop, and an Android phone; that means I need to pick a password locker that will run on all those different OS's.
    • And have some way of keeping the data synced across them.
    • And don't forget that, even with a password locker, chances are that at some point you'll end up having to type some of these passwords manually, on a screen keyboard. Adding brackets and carets and other symbols to your password will make it more secure, but you're going to want to weigh that against the hassle of having to dive three levels deep into your screen keyboard just to type those symbols. It may be worth it if it's the password for, say, your bank account, but it's definitely not worth it for your Gmail login.
  • Of course, you need a master password to access all those other passwords, and you should choose a good one. There's no point in picking a bunch of unique, strong passwords if you protect them with a shitty unsecure password. There are ways to come up with a password that's secure but easy to remember:
    • The "correct horse battery staple" method of creating a passphrase of four random words is a good one, but there are caveats:
      • You have to make sure they're actually random words, words that don't have anything to do with each other. Edward Snowden's example, "MargaretThatcheris110%SEXY.", is not actually very secure; it follows correct English sentence structure, "MargaretThatcher" and "110%" are each effectively one word since they're commonly-used phrases, the word "SEXY" is common as fuck in passwords, and mixed case and punctuation don't really make your password significantly more secure if, for example, you capitalize the beginnings of words or entire words and end sentences with periods, question marks, or exclamation points. Basically, if you pick the words in your passphrase yourself, they're not random enough; use a computer to pick the words for you.
      • And this method unfortunately doesn't work very well on a screen keyboard. Unless you know of a screen keyboard that autocompletes words inside a password prompt but won't remember those words or their sequence. I think this would be a very good idea for screen keyboards to implement, but I don't know of any that do it.
    • There are programs and sites that generate pronounceable passwords -- something like "ahx2Boh8" or "ireeQuaico". Sequences of letters (and possibly numbers) that are gibberish but can be pronounced, which makes them easy to remember -- a little less secure than a password that doesn't follow such a rule, but a lot more secure than a dictionary word. But read reviews before you use one of these services -- you want to make sure that the passwords it generates are sufficiently random to be secure, and that it's reputable and can be trusted not to snoop on you and send that master password off to some third party. It's best to pick one that generates multiple passwords at once; if you pick one from a list it's harder for a third party to know which one you chose.
  • Of course, any password is memorable if you type it enough times.
  • And no password is going to protect you from a targeted attack by a sufficiently dedicated and resourceful attacker -- if somebody's after something you've got, he can probably find somebody in tech support for your ISP, or your registrar, or your hosting provider, or your phone company, or some company you've bought something from, somewhere, who can be tricked into giving him access to your account. Or maybe he'll exploit a zero-day vulnerability. Or maybe one of the sites you've got an account with will be compromised and they'll get everybody's account information. Password security isn't about protecting yourself against a targeted attack. It's about making yourself a bigger hassle to go after than the guy sitting next to you, like the old joke about "I don't have to outrun the tiger, I just have to outrun you." And it's about minimizing the amount of damage somebody can do if he does compromise one of your accounts.
  • And speaking of social engineering, security questions are deliberate vulnerabilities, and they are bullshit. Never answer a security question truthfully. If security questions are optional, do not fill them out. If they are not optional and a site forces you to add a security question, your best bet is to generate a pseudorandom answer (remember you may have to read it over the phone, so a pronounceable password or "correct horse battery staple"-style phrase would be a good idea here, though you could always just use letters and numbers too -- knowing the phonetic alphabet helps) and store it in your password locker alongside your username and password.
  • You know what else is stupid? Password strength indicators. I once used one (it was Plesk's) that rejected K"Nb\:uO`) as weak but accepted P@55w0rd as strong. You can generally ignore password strength indicators, unless they reject your password outright and make you come up with a new one.

* For the purposes of this discussion, I will be using the words "random" and "pseudorandom" interchangeably, because the difference between the two things is beyond the scope of this post.

That's What She Said

Duke and Brock in a weird, fun little interview that appears to have been filmed by cellular telephone, spending a lot of words saying not very much about funny turns of phrase that also say not very much.

(When I was in high school, our equivalent of "That's what she said" was "Bend over and I'll show you." Which I believe is a Christmas Vacation reference. Good times.)

James Clapper and Other Disgraces

So I mentioned last night that asking the question, "Is Snowden a hero or a traitor?" completely misses the fucking point.

Here now to completely miss the fucking point are The New Yorker's John Cassidy ("hero") and Jeffrey Toobin ("traitor").

I guess we should applaud The New Yorker for showing its journalistic integrity by presenting both sides of the not-actually-the-fucking-story.

Look. I don't give a goddamn if Edward Snowden raped a bear in his meth lab while canceling Firefly. First of all, he'd still be less of an asshole than Dick Cheney, and second, if you think it's okay for the government to spy on your phone and Internet habits, you should probably come up with a better reason than "Well, I'm for it because that bear rapist is against it!"

Now, I happen to believe, based on the limited information we have at the moment, that Snowden did the right thing, and also that Snowden has gigantic balls. But I don't believe he's the most important person in this story. I don't think he's even in the top fifty.

Someone who is in the top fifty is James Clapper, perjuring fuck and Director of National Intelligence, who recently testified before Congress that the government is totally not collecting surveillance information on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans. Here, go watch John Oliver kill it on his first episode as fill-in host of The Daily Show (and be sure to stick around for the Moment of Zen where 2006 Joe Biden explains how this sort of thing is totally not okay when a Republican does it).

Fred Kaplan at Slate advocates firing Clapper, because, among other reasons, he has proven himself totally incapable of discussing this subject in an intellectually honest fashion or any other kind of honest fashion.

Among other reasons, here's Clapper's inept fucking explanation for why his lie was actually true:

Rambling on in his rationalization to Mitchell, he focused on Wyden’s use of the word “collect,” as in “Did the NSA collect any type of data ... on millions of Americans?” Clapper told Mitchell that he envisioned a vast library of books containing vast amounts of data on every American. “To me,” he said, “collection of U.S. persons’ data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.”

Jesus Christ. Between this asshole and Petraeus, I'm beginning to worry that our entire intelligence apparatus is made up of people who can't even come up with a convincing lie if they're given months of warning and an entire team of speechwriters.

Hey Clapper -- this is my comic book collection.

Image: My comic book collection.

I haven't read most of those books in years. Does that mean they're no longer part of my collection? Or does reading them once count? Does that mean the comics I bought last week and haven't gotten around to reading aren't part of my collection yet? Is this some kind of quantum physics shit where my collection is altered by the act of observing it?

What about garbage collection? Does it only count as collecting my garbage if the sanitation workers break open the bags and root through 'em? Because I've never seen them do that, and yet the city keeps charging me a garbage collection fee anyway.

You get the point. He's claiming his lie is not actually a lie because he was using a definition of a word that he just completely made up. Like how I had sex with Natalie Portman. It's not a lie because when I say "had sex" I actually mean "sat on the couch" and by "with Natalie Portman" I mean "and played Nintendo".

Man, I have had so much sex with Natalie Portman.

I don't know if I'm even as bothered by his lying -- hell, that's his job, I'd expect nothing less -- as the sheer fucking laziness of his lying. It's downright goddamned insulting. It lacks even the sublime, recursive absurdity of "That depends on what your definition of is is." It's just worthless. And so is Clapper.

I don't really think throwing him out on his ass is going to change things. Throwing the Republicans out of the White House sure as hell didn't.

But what the hell, they still deserved to be thrown out, and so does he.

Firing Clapper certainly wouldn't guarantee we'd have an honest national discussion about the nature of our government's various spying programs.

But not firing Clapper will guarantee that we won't.

How I Became a Corporate Sellout

I don't think I've ever told the story of how this site got its name. Bits and pieces, maybe.

I think it must have been my freshman year of college. I was chatting online with a friend from high school -- she'd graduated a year before I did, we'd gone to different schools and pursued different majors.

I was studying computer science and engineering; I wanted to be a programmer. She was studying English; she wanted to be a writer. And I was telling her why I thought that was a mistake.

It's not that I don't like English or writing -- you read this blog, you know I like them quite a lot. But it's tough as hell to make a living at them. I loved college but I also saw it as a means to an end -- and I thought she was wasting her time and money on something that wasn't going to get her any kind of work.

I explained that, rather more rudely than was necessary. I had it all figured out, as only a college freshman can. She called me an asshole. I retorted that I was going to be doing work I loved and earning six figures at it.

She said, "It sounds to me like I'm studying to be an artist and you're studying to be a corporate sellout."

It's been a dozen years. We're older, mellower, wiser, and things haven't turned out quite as either of us expected.

So was either of us right? Did my degree open up opportunities that hers closed off to her?

I don't know. Maybe I'll ask her if I see her at work on Monday.

Don't Buy from med_express_sales

Hi, I'm the Frivolous Suit.  And I think Med Express is AWESOME.

I've never done business with Med Express. I can't speak to the quality of their products or services.

But, per Ken White at Popehat, I know enough to know I wouldn't do business with them even if the opportunity ever did arise.

See, Med Express is suing a customer for giving it negative feedback on eBay.

It doesn't dispute the substance of the feedback. And yet, it's suing all the same.

When notified of the problem, Med Express immediately offered to reimburse Nicholls for the postage due amount. Despite this offer, and before giving Med Express a chance to reimburse her, Nicholls on February 26, 2013, apparently as a result of the $1.44 postage due, posted negative feedback and comments for the transaction on Ebay's website and gave Med Express low ratings in the Detailed Seller Ratings section of Ebay's Feedback Forum, resulting in an unfavorable feedback profile for Med Express. In so doing, Nicholls falsely and deliberately slandered the good name and reputation of Med Express.

Well, okay, two things:

  1. Anyone who refers to written words as "slander" is clearly not familiar with even the basics of defamation law. Here, I'll let J Jonah Jameson explain:
  2. It's not defamatory if it's true.

Now, free speech attorney Paul Alan Levy tried to explain that to Med Express's lawyer. Here's how that went:

I contacted James Amodio, Med Express's lawyer, to explain to him the many ways in which his lawsuit is untenable. He readily admitted that, as the complaint admits, everything that the customer had posted in her feedback was true; he did not deny that a statement has to be false to be actionable as defamation; but he just plain didn’t care. To the contrary, he told me that I could come up to Medina, Ohio, and argue whatever I might like, but that the case was going to continue unless the feedback was taken down or changed to positive. And he explained why his client was insisting on this change — he said that it sells exclusively over eBay, where a sufficient level of negative feedback can increase the cost of such sales as well as possibly driving away customers.

So okay, that brings up another point:

You don't actually have a legal right not to lose business because of bad reviews.

Let's look at, say, the Rotten Tomatoes page for Olympus has Fallen.

David Edelstein calls it "a disgusting piece of work". Richard Roeper says it's "just too much of a pale 'Die Hard' ripoff."

You know what? People listen to those guys. Olympus has Fallen was seventh at the BO last weekend, a million and a half behind a movie that came out in 1993.

Hell, here's a bad review of this very website:

I was going to check your site out, but then you gave it that thoroughly unfunny plug. I'd actually read My damn site before I ever went to Corporate Sellout.

But did I sue Geothermal? No. Even though I never sold a T-shirt to anyone but my grandmother.

Because -- and this is kind of important -- it's totally legal to criticize things you don't like. Even if it hurts their business. Even if your intention is to hurt their business. Just so long as what you're saying is either (1) actually true or (2) a personal opinion rather than a statement of fact.

Here are some examples:

Statement of fact: Med Express sues its customers for giving it negative feedback on eBay.

Personal opinion: Med Express is run by immoral scumbags who want to wipe their asses with the First Amendment and use the Ohio courts as their own personal enforcement racket.

And then of course there's our good friend the Streisand Effect.

Yesterday morning I'd never heard of Med Express, and you probably hadn't either.

Now, you have and I have. And our opinion of them is not positive. In fact it's almost certainly a lot more negative than if we'd just seen a single bad review of them on eBay. Especially given that, for fuck's sake, their feedback is 99.3% positive. Seriously, would anyone have even looked at that one bad review? One of only two bad reviews compared to 300 good ones?

I imagine their search results would be taking a beating, too, if their name weren't so damn generic as to get subsumed in a deluge of other companies with the same name.

A note to Mr. Amodio and any other bullies or thugs who may be reading this: Everything I have said in this post is either (1) a factual statement which is true to the best of my knowledge or (2) a statement of personal opinion.

If I have said anything that is factually incorrect, let me know and, if I can verify your claim, I will correct it.

And if you drop the case, apologize to Ms. Nicholls, and offer her fair compensation for the trouble you have caused her, I will be willing to amend this post to make note of that. I will retitle it and add a disclaimer at the beginning stating that Med Express has done the right thing and all is forgiven.

Provided you ask nicely rather than threaten me. Seriously, you really should stop threatening people; it is not a very good way to make people stop saying bad things about you.

Fucking Government Bureaucrats

So I'm doing a bit of freelance work right now, on a royalty basis.

I wasn't sure how to fill this out on this week's unemployment claim. They ask, Did you work or earn any money during the week of [whenever]? Well, I worked, but the work hasn't yet earned me any money, and because the money is based on future sales, I have no way of accurately estimating what it will be.

Given this problem, I submitted a question to the unemployment website as soon as I knew I would be doing the work, to make sure that I filled out the form accurately and correctly.

I got a call two days later -- at 7:15 AM, because of course an unemployed person is going to be awake at that hour -- from someone who had never heard of an unemployed person working for royalties before, but who said she thought it would be okay if I answered Yes to the "Did you work or earn any money?" question and then filled out the amount as $0.00.

Because -- and here's where I start nitpicking about the definitions of basic fucking English words -- the word or does in fact indicate that if you meet either one of the listed conditions, the answer is Yes.

But I guess when whatever government bureaucrat wrote that question wrote it, what they really meant was and, not or. Because yesterday I got a notice that my claim had been denied for failure to report wages.

Now, to be clear: I am not blaming the nice lady who I spoke to on the phone for this mess. She did the best she could with an unusual and unfamiliar circumstance.

I blame whatever nitwit wrote the question, and also whoever decided that the solution to the "Wait, this guy said he worked but earned no money" condition would be automatic rejection instead of, say, flagging the account and getting a human being to spend five fucking minutes reviewing it. Because of course in addition to my having submitted a question on the website and spoken to a representative on the phone, I also noted that I was working for royalties on the list of jobs I had applied to over the week (which is also an asinine requirement and which I have discussed previously).

Sure is nice to know nobody reads those fucking things, even if your claim is flagged.

Guess that reassures me some that nobody from DES is likely to stumble across a blog post titled Fucking Government Bureaucrats while I'm waiting for them to fix this and send me my check.

Hopefully I will get my money by the end of the week. In the meantime, I guess I learned my fucking lesson: when dealing with government agencies, never use any logic complex enough to destroy a robot in a 1940's science fiction story.

You can't tell them, because that would hurt and you mustn't hurt. But if you don't tell them, you hurt, so you must tell them. And if you do, you will hurt and you mustn't, so you can't tell them; but if you don't, you hurt, so you must; but if you do, you hurt, so you mustn't; but if you don't, you hurt, so you must; but if you do, you—

Green Party Candidate Arrested at Presidential Debate. Again.

So Jill Stein and running-mate Cheri Honkala were arrested outside of last night's debate.

Much the same thing happened to Ralph Nader in 2000. He sued the Commission on Presidential Debates; they settled. Back then I was naïve enough to think this was going to make a difference and this would bring down the CPD, or at least force major reforms. But nope, here we go again.

There are differences. Nader had a ticket; Stein didn't. Stein blocked traffic; Nader didn't. And I'm not sure if Stein's arrest was instigated by the CPD or if the county police acted independently. Could be that Stein and Honkala wanted to get arrested to get some press -- but even if that's the case, it's not justification for handcuffing them to a chair for eight hours, as they have alleged. That sounds to me like a wildly disproportionate response and another potential lawsuit.

Unfortunately I'm not seeing much coverage of the story, and many of the reports get details wrong -- CNN refers to the CPD as "nonpartisan" -- it's bipartisan; there's a difference -- and the Washington Post refers to Perot participating in the 1992 debates under guidelines that were not implemented until 2000.

Would sure be nice if people like Stein and Johnson and Nader and Buchanan and, yes, Perot were allowed into presidential debates. But the CPD exists for the express purpose of keeping people like them out.