The Fed On Facebook

Recently the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System — let’s call them the Fed — decided it would be a good idea to have a Facebook page.  You know . . . Facebook, that aging social media site where people post selfies and pictures of babies and weddings and political memes that don’t change anyone’s mind.  Yes, that Facebook.

So why did the Fed decide it needed a Facebook page?  It’s not entirely clear.  After all, the Fed has functioned for decades without having much of a public face.  It’s the grey, boring group behind currency and interest rate decisions, all of which are made by unelected people who are completely unknown to 99.99% of us.  So why Facebook?  Who knows?  Maybe the Fed, like other aging Facebookers, just wanted to get a little attention.

fed20reactions203You can see the Fed’s Facebook page here.  It’s a pretty hilarious page, actually, because the Fed decided to allow people to comment, and every post by the Fed features venomous comments from people who think the Fed has ruined American money, manipulated our currency, and should be audited to determine its fundamental solvency.  The Fed isn’t responding to the comments, so a bland post about one of the Fed’s “key functions” provokes an avalanche of over-the-top haymakers from the Fed haters.  It’s probably the most tonally disproportionate Facebook page in history, and even the American Banker, which is normally pretty sympathetic to the Fed, has declared the Fed’s Facebook page a full-fledged disaster.

It’s hard to imagine that a federal entity would think it’s wise to have a Facebook page, and it make you wonder how much it costs the Fed (that is, we taxpayers) to pay the schlub who writes the puff pieces that then get ripped to shreds by internet trolls who are happy to have a new target for their venom.  I can’t believe anybody at the Fed, or any other federal agency, honestly believes that people are going to learn about the agency and what they do by going to Facebook, as opposed to the agency’s own website or, God forbid, an actual book.  How many people go to Facebook expecting to get the unvarnished truth?   Does anyone?

Maybe there’s a positive in this catastrophic combination of faceless but powerful government entity and social media:  maybe the Fed will decide not to proceed with its impending dips into Tumblr, Ello, Hyper, Shots, and Bebo.

The Charging Issue

Should you charge your smartphone overnight, or not?  It’s one of those choices that wasn’t an issue years ago but that is now complicating our modern lives.

20150911171157-iphone-charging-apple-batteryThis article on MSN says:  it depends.  The act of charging is bad for the battery on your phone, even though my iPhone, and Android phones, have chips that prevent them from being overcharged.  That’s because one of the recent smartphone advances is the incorporation of technology that allows phones to accept more current, faster.  As a result, we no longer have to groan because it takes freaking forever! for our phones to charge.  But, that quick-charging technology also causes lithium-ion batteries to corrode more quickly than they would otherwise.  So, if you are charging your phone overnight, you are promoting battery corrosion.

Why is the MSN answer “it depends”?  Because the corrosion process is gradual, and batteries usually don’t start showing signs of wear for two years — which is about the period of time many people use a phone before upgrading to get their hands on the latest model.  So, if you’re the kind of person who plans on getting a new phone whenever your cell phone carrier allows you to do so, charge away, baby!

I’m not one of those people; I keep my cell phone until is goes toes up.  I also charge my phone overnight.  Rationally, I accept the conclusion that by doing so I am contributing to eventual battery performance problems, but emotionally it is hard for me to not start the day with a fully charged phone.  I’ve been caught with a dying phone too many times, and therefore my reflex approach is to charge up when I can — like overnight.  But I defer to science.  I’m going to try a new approach, not begin to charge until I get up, and then stop the process when I hit that 100% charged level.  We’ll see how it goes.  Old habits die hard.

14,000 Steps

Periodically I am prompted to download one of those large iPhone updates on my cell phone.  Normally I have no idea what the update changes, but sometimes it adds a new app, like “Wallet” or “Watch,” that appears on my screen but I never use thereafter.

nwm13724144038584_3_t2One of the recent updates added an app called, simply, “Health.”  I ignored it, too, until I inadvertently opened it two days ago and saw that it is tracking steps, distance walked, and flights of stairs climbed, and then creating a daily average.  Those results are displayed on a dashboard chart against a kind of goal line — like 14,000 steps — that lurks just beyond my standard daily output.  Based on what my Fitbit Friends have said, it sounds like a iPhone variation of the Fitbit.  (The “Health” app also allows you to do other things, like identify and download other apps that will collect and analyze other personal health data, in categories like “sleep” and “nutrition,” but I’m not going to worry about those.)

As soon as I saw the tracking dashboard for the app, it hooked me.  I’m not a super-competitive person, but I am goal-oriented — even if it’s a goal set for me by some anonymous app added to my iPhone in a generic update.  As soon as I realized that the app was tracking flights of stairs climbed, I felt strangely compelled to take the stairs to try to up my average.  And even though I walk a mile and a half to work everyday, I’m still coming up a bit short of those 14,000 steps, and I feel an irresistible urge to try to hit, and then surpass, that goal.

Our brains are wired in different ways.  Some people find the motivation to exercise within, some never find it, some respond to doctor’s orders, and some are encouraged by measuring their progress and trying to improve those numbers.  I’m definitely in the latter category.  Today I’m going to change my routine to try to get to those 14,000 steps — and a few more flights of stairs to boot.

A New Approach To Waiting

Recently I was at the dentist’s office.  It was one of those dreaded midday appointments, where the odds are that some emergency or other complication cropped up earlier in the day, meaning that the schedule is out of whack and you’ll likely be cooling your heels while the dentist and the hygienists work to catch up.

smartphoneusers-300x200Like every waiting room — literally, a room specifically designed to accommodate people who are waiting — the dentist’s office had a full spread of magazines and a TV tuned to one of those home redesign shows.  But as I looked around the room, none of the people waiting was restlessly flipping through a magazine, or watching the TV, or fidgeting and constantly glancing at their watches.  Instead, they were all on their smartphones, checking their email, playing a video game, or letting the expectant Facebook world know that they were at the dentist’s office.

This is one of the little changes in modern life that happens without being noticed until somebody calls it to your attention.  But now, thanks to smartphones, waiting time doesn’t necessarily suck.  Sure, you’d rather not be sitting in some generic space in the company of a bunch of strangers — especially if they’re coughing or sniffling — but at least you’ve got a handy gadget in your pocket or purse that lets you be productive or see what your friends are up to or have some fun while you’re sitting on an uncomfortable chair.  I’m told that some people actually look forward to waiting time for this very reason.  What could be a bigger change than that?

I have no way of knowing whether this is true, but I’d bet that state license bureaus and federal administrative agencies and doctor’s offices get a lot fewer complaints about excessive waiting time than used to be the case.  Every office administrator who works in a place with a waiting room should be grateful to the inventor of the smartphone.

I Suck At “Selfies”

IMG_1527When Kish and I were up at Glacier National Park, we took a boat ride with some young people who spent the entire time ignoring the fabulous scenery we were cruising past, and taking “selfies” of themselves instead.

I groaned at their lack of appreciation for the abundant natural beauty surrounding us, but they did look like they were having a lot of fun.  Intrigued, I decided to try to take my first selfie — and I realized the framing, distance, etc. that are crucial parts of the selfie experience are not exactly easy to master.  My effort at a selfie, above, was a dismal failure . . . although it does communicate a certain pathetic ineptitude with modern technology that is easily mastered by an eight-year-old.

Then I realized that I not only suck at selfies, I have no desire to look at a selfie with me in the picture.  If I want to gaze at that grizzled mug, a mirror will do just fine.

The Last VCR

This month the last VCR to be manufactured will roll off the assembly lines at a Funai Electric factory in Japan and will be sold, somewhere in the world, under the brand name Sanyo.  Last year Funai sold only 750,000 VCRs, just a tiny fraction of the 15 million units it sold annually back when VCRs were selling like hotcakes and you just couldn’t keep them on the shelves at places like Circuit City.

vcrsOur family had a Sanyo VCR at some point — one of about 10 VCRs that we went through over the years — but we haven’t had a functioning VCR in forever.  Why would we?  With the other options available, from desktop to streaming to Netflix and Hulu and God knows what, who would want to fuss around with a VCR, deal with the tapes, tears and clogs, rent videos, buy videos, and pay late fees?  Not us.

Interesting, isn’t it, how quickly technology moves.  I remember when we bought our first VCR in the early ’80s — first stupidly choosing the Beta format that promptly was crushed in competition with VHS — and how in the blink of an eye were Blockbuster video stores in every strip mall.  But home entertainment was such a fertile market that entrepreneurs, inventors, and visionaries came up with multiple options that turned the once-hot VCR technology into the horse and buggy in only a few short years.  Now VCRs are going the way of the dodo, thrown onto the ash heap of history, a technology so antiquated that people can’t even give them away.

Thirty years for an entire industry to bloom, flourish, and die.  The world moves awfully fast these days.

There Goes Somebody’s First Job

Popular Science has an interesting article about the development of a robot in Germany that grills sausages and apparently does a pretty good job of it.  So what, you say?  Here’s what:  the German robot shows just how easy it is for robotics to eliminate jobs.  And, since robotics mostly focuses on performing basic, ministerial tasks, the jobs that are eliminated tend to be entry-level jobs — the kinds of jobs that many of us had as our first jobs, back when we were teenagers.  Whether it is grilling sausages, flipping burgers, washing dishes, or bagging groceries (which was my first job), we’re likely to see increasing robotic inroads, which means fewer jobs for kids trying to earn some spare money so they can take their significant other on a date or go to the prom.

If you’re the owner of a sausage restaurant, why wouldn’t you use a robot instead of a teenage kid?  The robot in the Popular Science article has a natty moustache and is wearing a chef’s hat, apparently issues some German witticisms as he grills, and will never, ever complain about working conditions or fail to show up for work on time.  You wouldn’t have to pay for health care, perform withholding, or worry about unionization.  And, since we all remember the personality issues that inevitably afflict the teenager years, you wouldn’t have to deal with sullen, hormone-addled employees, either.

When robots take over those “first jobs” that many of us had, I think it will have a profound impact.  I thought getting that first job was an important step on the road to adulthood, where I jarringly realized that not everybody is going to treat me with kid gloves like my parents did.  If teenagers can’t get a first job, how are they going to get a sense of the working world, and how are they going to stay out of trouble?