Birthday Wishes

  
Today is my birthday.

It’s great to live in modern times because, among other things, it’s easier to wish people happy birthday, and in more communication methods and forms, than ever before.  I’ve received grossly inappropriate, unforgivably ageist cards from family and friends, Facebook congratulations from pals old and new and a post from UJ with a picture of us as toddlers, text message birthday greetings, and nice emails from clients and colleagues.  It’s been great to be the target of so many good wishes.

I’ve even received happy birthday emails from my optometrist, my periodontist, and the America Red Cross.  I suppose there’s a kind of message there, too.

Password Obscenity Roulette

Hacking hackers are everywhere these days, and all at once.  For the IT guys amongst us, that means tinkering with firewalls and new defensive software and systems vulnerability checks and incident response plans and all of the other technical gibberish that makes IT guys boring death at a party.  For the rest of us, we can only groan in grim anticipation, because we know that we’re going to be asked to change our password . . . again.

rouletteOne of the great challenges of modern life is remembering all of the different “passwords” that we must inevitably use to access our various electronic devices and internet accounts and computer access points.  Unfortunately, we can’t use passwords like Allen Ludden would recognize. In fact, they can’t be a properly spelled word at all.  So that it’s a “strong” password, it’s got to include a weird combination of capitalized and lower case letters, numbers substituting for letters, and random characters, like ampersands and pound signs and question marks.  The result often looks like the sanitized representation of cursing that you might see from the Sarge in a Beetle Bailey cartoon — minus only the lightning bolts.  (@#%*$^@#!)  In a way, that’s pretty appropriate.

Of course, all of these suB5t!tu+ed characters, plus the fact that you need different passwords for different devices and accounts, plus the fact that passwords now must be changed much more frequently, make it impossible for the average human being to remember the passwords in the first place.  How many of us sit down at a computer or pick up our tablet and idly wonder for a moment what the &*%$# the password is?  And there’s the new year/check writing phenomenon to deal with, too.  When a new year comes, how long does it take you to stop automatically writing the old year in the date, because you’d been doing that for the past 346 days?  I had to change my iPhone password several weeks ago, and I still reflexively type in the old password every time I’m prompted, until I dimly realize that I’ve changed it and it’s time to key in the new one — if I can remember it.

There’s a positive aspect to this.  We’re all getting older, and people who deal with aging say that if you want to stay mentally sharp as the joints creak and the brain cells croak you need to play word games or solve puzzles.  Well, this generation has got that covered.  We don’t need silly games, because we’ve got frustrating passwords.

 

Don’t Vex About Sex Or Guess About “Yes”

There’s been a lot of activity lately, in the legislative arena and on college campuses, about what constitutes consent to sexual activity.

In California, colleges must require “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” and consent can be communicated through a verbal agreement or through actions.  Consent must be given at every step, so agreement to kissing or “heavy petting” is not consent to actual intercourse.  The underlying idea, of course, is to ensure that all parties to the sexual activity agree to move forward before matters escalate.

nastroeniya-devushka-paren-6966But if you’re concerned about complying with state law while at the same time wanting to be absolutely sure that no one will claim that you’ve exceeded the boundaries of their consent, how do you memorialize the consent in a way that will hold up?  Do you draft up a written agreement, or try to make a recording?  What are college students supposed to have at hand when passion strikes?

Leave it to a Mom to develop a smartphone app that attempts to solve the dilemma by allowing the participants to the contemplated sexual activity to log their consent.  With the “Yes to Sex” app on their phones, students can access the app when the moment arrives, walk through their agreements through the touch of a button, get a “safe word” to use when they want their partner to stop, and record an audio consent — all of which gets stored on encrypted servers in the event a disagreement arises in the future.

I guess it was inevitable that we would get to the point where people would be using their phones to document, in a legally meaningful way, that they’re engaging in sex by mutual consent.  Why not?  Phones are used for everything else these days.  Why stop at selfies?

Orange Bicycle

IMG_0796Yesterday Kasey and I were out for a walk when we encountered an orange bicycle chained to a traffic sign.  And when I say “orange,” I mean this bike was totally orange, from the seat to the frame to the tires to the brake lines, chain, spokes and pedals.  The only non-orange item was the black foam handlebar grips.

What’s the significance of a completely orange bicycle chained to a traffic sign?  These days, who knows?  It could be that the bike’s owner and rider just really likes orange — or maybe it’s some kind of weird advertising campaign for a new start-up tech company called Orange Bicycle.  Or maybe Orange Bicycle is the name for a rock band or a new beer; nowadays new high-tech companies, rock bands, and beer brands seem to draw from the same reservoir of abstract and improbable names.

Now that I think of it, Orange Bicycle would be a pretty good name for a rock band.

The FBI Director And His Webcam

The FBI has taken a strong stance on the ability of law enforcement and anti-terrorism concerns to trump individual privacy interests.  Its position on requiring Apple to develop a back door through its iPhone encryption protection is just part of a larger concern about privacy advocates hampering the FBI’s ability to catch crooks and killers.

The FBI Director, James Comey, gave a speech this week at Kenyon College where he sounded many of those same themes.  But then he admitted that, on his personal laptop, he’s put a piece of black tape over the camera so no one can hack into his computer and watch him.  After all, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that somebody, somewhere, might want to watch you through your laptop camera — the FBI itself has developed surveillance software that apparently allows the agency to do just that.

hqdefaultThe notion that the director of the FBI is worried about surveillance on his laptop and put some black tape over his webcam has provoked a lot of reaction on social media, from privacy advocates gleefully saying “I told you so” to paranoid anti-government types seeing Comey’s admission as evidence that the FBI, the NSA, the CIA and the other members of the alphabet soup of American security agencies routinely spy on each other.  And it by  pretty ironic, when you think about it — and pretty funny that the anti-surveillance tool Comey decided to use is a simple strip of duct tape.

But Comey’s reaction also is instructive, and illustrates some apparent hypocrisy.  People who worry about their privacy and governmental overreach are chided for not helping to catch the bad guys and told that if they’ve done nothing wrong they’ve got nothing to worry about — but then even the FBI director takes a basic step to protect his own privacy against unwanted intrusion.  He thinks he hasn’t done anything wrong, and he doesn’t like the idea of somebody spying on him.  He might rationalize it as protection against hacking by a terrorist cell, or a rogue foreign government, rather than concern about surveillance by his own government, but the principle is the same.  If an unhackable iPhone might “hinder law enforcement” in certain circumstances, couldn’t a strip of black tape over a laptop webcam prove to be a hindrance at some point, too?

I’m with the privacy advocates on this one — and Comey’s own actions help to say why.

Robots, Jobs, And The Minimum Wage

In his campaign for President, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has called for raising the minimum wage significantly, to make it a “living wage,” and in many places local governments have raised the minimum wage.  The argument for such raises is that if we just increased the minimum wage, people working at those minimum wage jobs would earn more money, could provide better for their families, and might actually spend more of their pay and help the economy.  In short, the country as a whole would be better off.

These arguments seem to defy basic rules of economics and normal human experience.  We know from our own lives that the cost of something matters.  How many people shop without looking at the price tag?  We also know from our own experience that if something becomes too expensive, we will try to do without that costly item.  So the notion that you can raise the cost of anything without any negative reaction or consequences seems both naive and outlandish.  The across-the-board minimum wage hike arguments presuppose that those who employ minimum wage workers — who are, by definition, the most unskilled, untrained, fungible people in the national workforce — have an endless supply of money and will simply accept a minimum wage hike without taking any steps to account for their increased costs.  If you know anyone who has worked as a manager of a fast-food restaurant, you know that assumption is fantasyland.

hqdefaultSome municipalities have increased the minimum wage anyway.  So, how is it working?  While the data is preliminary, it seems to show what any rational person would suspect — that minimum wage increases affect hiring.  A recent economic research study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concluded that “the overall body of recent evidence suggests that the most credible conclusion is a higher minimum wage results in some job loss for the least-skilled workers—with possibly larger adverse effects than earlier research suggested.”  The study adds that “allowing for the possibility of larger job loss effects, based on other studies, and possible job losses among older low-skilled adults, a reasonable estimate based on the evidence is that current minimum wages have directly reduced the number of jobs nationally by about 100,000 to 200,000, relative to the period just before the Great Recession.”  And more recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests that hiring slowed in those locations where the minimum wage was increased.

I’m sure the minimum wage hike advocates will dispute the data, or argue in the alternative that the better earnings by the employed more than compensate for any job loss that might have occurred.  Such arguments seem to me to be both misguided — wouldn’t we rather have more people working, and taking that first step up the job progress ladder? — and short-sighted.  If employers of minimum wage workers are cost-sensitive, as the data is indicating, they’ll look for other ways to avoid paying wages that are too high as a result of governmental fiat.  As the Washington Post has reported, one option that is being explored is increased reliance on machinery and robotics in places like fast-food restaurants, which already have seen declines in worker employment.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  Hiking the minimum wage is no panacea, and we don’t live in a fairyland where employers have endless supplies of money.  Don’t be surprised if, in a few months or years, you don’t see that teenager behind the counter at your favorite fast food restaurant and are served your burger by Robbie the Robot instead.

I Hate Our New Area Code

Columbus, Ohio has a new area code.  For decades, we’ve been the 614 area code.  It’s snappy.  It’s catchy.  It’s got the traditional lower number in the middle configuration, like the 202 or 212 or 312 area codes that are used by big cities in the country.  Columbus is so associated with its long-standing area code that (614) is the name of one local magazine.

But now Columbus has a new area code, too — 380.  It’s clunky.  It looks like the kind of number that would pop up on your phone when it’s an annoying telemarketing call from India.  And even though most people who live in Columbus couldn’t tell you what the new area code is if you asked, we’ve already grown to hate it.  In fact, “hate” doesn’t even begin to capture the depth of feeling we have for the new area code.  “Despise it with every fiber of our being” comes a bit closer, but still might not even get there.

0gwaf8e946du6_6228Why?  Because 380 is an overlapping area code.  That means that, rather than creating some new area code out in the suburbs defined by a specific geographic region, the 380 phone numbers will be doled out to people who live in the 614 area code territory.

It’s not that we mind 380ers in our midst, like they’re unclean or something.  No, it’s because now we have to dial the area code to make what used to be local calls.  So if I want to call Kish to tell her that I am heading home after the end of the work day, I have to dial three extra digits.  That might not sound like much of a burden, but understand that Kish’s cell phone number is firmly engraved onto every synapse in my brain, right there with the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies.  When I pick up the phone and think “time to call Kish,” the mental reflexes kick in and the finger punches the number automatically — and there’s no 614 area code involved.  The 380 area code is basically requiring me to reverse decades of consistent mental conditioning.

We’re told that we need the new 380 area code because the 614 area code is running out of numbers.  It’s not just new cell phone numbers, either:  we’re told that now vending machines and other devices that take credit cards need phone numbers for “machine-to-machine” communications.

Really?  I need to rewire my brain just so an office worker can use a credit card to buy a Zagnut bar?  Well, I say the vending machines can bite me.  And the 380 area code can, too.